"That Dáil Éireann:
— that there are almost 91,000 kilometres of regional and local roads in Ireland, which account for 94 per cent of the country’s roads network and which carry around 54 per cent of all road traffic;
— the importance of regional and local roads which are crucial to economic activity and essential for balanced regional development;
— that good quality regional and local roads are essential for social inclusion, providing vital linkages among communities and between communities, their towns and larger urban centres;
— the shortage of outdoor council staff who have not been replaced;
— the importance of the speedy delivery of the planned upgrading of our national road network, for both the economy and a more balanced spatial distribution;
— that according to the latest National Oversight and Audit Commission, the kilometres of all road types mapped to date indicate that 81.6 per cent of all regional roads, 87.1 per cent of all primary roads, 92 per cent of all secondary roads and 93.2 per cent of all tertiary roads fall outside of the best grouped condition rating category, many of which fall in the worst grouped condition rating category;
— that large segments of the national road network will be overloaded and operating above capacity and safe levels by 2030, if traffic volumes continue to grow; and
— that the growing congestion problems are the result of significant underinvestment in transport infrastructure over successive decades;
— the commitments given in the Programme for a Partnership Government to increase the capital budget for regional and local roads by approximately 50 per cent;
— the publication of the Action Plan for Rural Development commitment to progress the major roads projects detailed in the seven year transport element of the Capital Investment Plan 2016 - 2021, which will help deliver economic and business benefits across rural areas and regions; and
— that world class road infrastructure is vital to build a stronger economy and is essential to the future of regional and rural development, particularly in terms of attracting investment, enterprise, tourism and the agri-food industries;
and calls on the Government to:
— consider increasing the regional and local roads budget as part of the Capital Investment Plan 2016 - 2021, in the context of the mid-term capital review which is underway;
— ensure that Transport Infrastructure Ireland and local authority funding is examined in the course of the expenditure review, with a view to being progressively resourced to ensure proactive national road project planning to increase the pipeline of essential roads projects, so that sufficient numbers of projects are brought through the planning and design stages and ready for construction as funding becomes available;
— accelerate support for the safety improvement schemes for dangerous junctions and bends, particularly where serious accidents and fatalities have occurred;
— continue funding, to enable the restoration of class 3/cul-de-sac roads;
— ensure continuation of Ceantair Laga Árd-Riachtanais (CLÁR) funding for disadvantaged areas;
— require local authorities to examine speed limits on all regional and local roads, and to ensure the process of adjusting speed limits continues to engage with local communities;
— ensure that local authorities take responsibility for ensuring that drainage, hedge cutting and the removal of overhanging trees are carried out where appropriate, in the interests of road safety, and to reduce damage caused to large vehicles particularly buses, lorries and agricultural machinery;
— urgently address road safety issues involving wild animals, such as deer, in co-operation with local authorities and other public bodies;
— undertake swift implementation of the commitment contained in the Action Plan for Rural Development, to examine the scope for increased investment in regional roads in the context of the review of the Capital Investment Plan 2016 - 2021, which will take place shortly; and
— reinstate a separate grant allocation to the Local Improvement Scheme, as funding becomes available, to support the upgrading and repair of non-local authority roads."
I am delighted to introduce the motion on behalf of the Rural Independent Group. Ar an gcéad dul síos, ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil don Aire. I thank the Minister, Deputy Ross, and the staff in his office, in particular Aisling, and Triona of the Rural Independent Group staff. I also thank Ray O'Leary at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and officials in the Department Communications, Climate Action and Environment and the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government because the issue spans all of these areas. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, is aware of this and I wish to record my thanks and appreciation to him. I know how busy he is today.
This is an agreed motion. The Government has agreed it and we are very pleased about this. At our press conference today, I was asked about agreed motions as this is the third motion we have brought forward which has been agreed. We appreciate this very much. We are putting the Minister on notice that we will be holding him and the Government to account every day on Leaders' Questions and the Order of Business, with the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, to know when the promises will be delivered. We worked very hard for this and we are delighted we have an agreed motion. We have faith in the system and new politics, and I hope this will continue.
We have tabled the motion to ensure the importance of our regional and local roads is recognised so they can no longer be ignored and abandoned due to severe underinvestment which has occurred under this Government and previous Governments. In fairness to the Minister, he is a new man in the chair. Regional and local roads are of significant importance. They account for 94% of the country's road network and carry approximately 54% of all traffic. These figures are quite staggering. They are crucial for economic activity and essential for balanced regional development. However, these roads have been neglected for the past decade and longer. According to Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, which preaches the gospel according to the Minister, Deputy Ross, and everybody else, we are underinvesting in our roads network to the tune of €120 million a year. We will pay dearly for this.
My Rural Independent Group colleagues and I fought hard during the negotiations on the programme for Government to have funding for the road network increased dramatically. We received a commitment the Government would increase the capital budget for regional and local roads by approximately 50% over its lifetime.
I omitted to say that Deputy Grealish, who is not available today, and Deputy Danny Healy-Rae, who is detained in Kerry at the funeral of a very close friend, wish to apologise for not being with us.
The regional and local roads grant allocation for this year is €319 million, representing a 9% increase from last year. While this is very welcome and I thank the Minister for it, it falls very well short of what is required to maintain the network, as estimated in the strategic framework for investment in land transport published by the Department. While we continue this level of underinvestment, the backlog of repairs has increased from €3 billion in 2005 to more than €10 billion in 2016. The current allocation means we continue to put a sticking plaster on this huge problem. The Minister came to Tipperary and visited many projects and saw them for himself. This is very serious because it is getting worse. Anyone who knows construction, and I know a small bit about it, knows the longer it goes on without proper foundations the more expensive it will be to complete the job later.
The committed increase of 50% must be front-loaded. We cannot wait three or four years to increase roads funding as many of the roads are literally falling apart. We are failing the communities of rural Ireland, which are suffering with appalling road conditions, dangerous and overloaded roads, little or no public transport, huge motor tax payments and people trying to maintain vehicles with NCTs and DOEs. This is very unfair to people.
Last week, the Government announced its Action Plan for Rural Development, which aims to support 135,000 new jobs. How do we expect to attract investment into rural Ireland when access to rural Ireland is falling apart? It just will not happen. I slagged the Taoiseach about four country roads to Glenamaddy when he was speaking in Longford. This is what it is. We do not have access roads. Of greater concern is the fact we are not planning ahead. This is according to the TII chief, who stated very few projects are in the pipeline. It takes approximately ten years to bring a road project from design to construction. This is a very serious issue. If get we the funding, which I hope we will - perhaps we will win the lottery - we will not have projects available to complete. This is very serious. We need to get back to proactive national roads project planning to increase the pipeline of essential roads projects so sufficient numbers of projects are brought through the planning and design stage and are ready for construction as funding becomes available. It is criminal this is not being done. I want an explanation as to why we will not have any shovel ready projects at advanced design stage or ready to roll out.
We have major roads projects throughout the country which need to be upgraded. I will give a major example from my area and my colleagues will speak about their own parts of the country. The N24 Limerick to Waterford road travels through Tipperary town, Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir, as well as villages in Limerick. It is a major route that has been neglected for years and we continue to witness large volumes of traffic travel through these towns en route to Rosslare Harbour. The towns are suffering as a result of traffic backlogs and the condition of the road is appalling. In Tipperary town the road surface of the main street is appalling, but the local authority cannot repair it because it is a national route and falls under the heavy axe of the remit of the TII. This is very serious. The local authority states it can barely fill a pothole because of the TII. This bureaucracy must be weeded out.
More locally, many of our local tertiary roads have been absolutely abandoned, drains are no longer opened and hedges are not cut, and the local authorities take little or no interest in these roads. In many cases, they do not have the manpower as outdoor local authority staff have not been replaced and are at minimal levels.
We call on the Government to ensure that local authorities take responsibility for ensuring that drainage works, hedge cutting and the removal of overhanging trees are carried out where appropriate, in the interests of road safety and to reduce the damage caused to large vehicles, particularly buses, lorries and agricultural machinery. A mirror on a truck costs €200 at a minimum.
Local improvement schemes and class III roads must be supported. The local improvement scheme must be reinstated. Speed limits are all over the place, and we have raised this issue previously.
There is an 80 km/h speed limit on byroads, culs-de-sac and boreens and that is a road safety issue. The Minister is trying to improve road safety but it is not all about speed. There are simple issues like this where things are just not working. World-class rural infrastructure is vital to building a stronger economy and is essential to the future of regional rural development, particularly in attracting investment, enterprise, tourism and the agrifood industries. I plead with the Minister to get stuck in with the TII. Last night an appeal was made to him to get involved in disputes but we are not asking him to get involved in any disputes. We are asking him to look at the situation in rural Ireland as it is devastating. People in rural towns and villages in Ireland are entitled to roads which are as good as any place else, including the Red Cow.