Other Questions

Noise Pollution

Clare Daly

Ceist:

45. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport further to Question No. 1252 of 21 March 2017, the reason the DAA has refused to provide longitudinal measurements of noise (details supplied) to local residents as promised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22101/17]

On 21 March I asked why the DAA had not furnished residents in St. Margaret's with the longitudinal noise measurements which they required to assess the impact of the new runway on their homes. At that stage, the Minister assured me that he had been in contact with them and that the information was being finalised and would be made available to them on 30 March. It is now 10 May and they still have not got it. I am wondering what is the story.

The Deputy is correct. As she is aware, the DAA has statutory responsibility to manage, operate and develop Dublin Airport, including the north runway project.  

When the Deputy first raised the issue in March, I had, as she referred to, made inquiries of the DAA and was informed at the time that the longitudinal analysis requested at the community liaison group meeting was being finalised and would be presented at the next meeting of that forum which was scheduled for 30 March.

However, I have now been advised by the DAA that it is not in a position to provide the information to the community liaison group, as intended, due to the legal proceedings taken by local residents in the vicinity of the airport in respect of the runway project.  I regret this. This matter, along with other legal proceedings against Fingal County Council and the State, have been listed for hearing to commence in the Commercial Court in October.  It would, therefore, be inappropriate for me to comment further on issues to which these proceedings refer.

The heart of this matter is the contempt the DAA is displaying towards local residents. When we asked the question in March, the meeting on 30 March was unilaterally cancelled without any alternative meeting with the community liaison group being put in place. As the Minister correctly stated, in the interim legal proceedings were commenced. Presumably the information had been obtained beforehand, however. Would it not be valid to state that perhaps the residents would not have had to get into costly litigation, which they do not want, if the DAA had consulted them and addressed their concerns in an open and upfront manner? It has failed to do that. I also put it to the Minister that the DAA has ignored him as well. It gave him information which turned out to be invalid.

This information has always been made publicly available. The residents asked for it more than six months ago. That litigation has now started is neither here nor there. I put it to the Minister that it is an indication of how much the DAA is riding roughshod over the interests of local interests, which is not in the interests of anyone, the DAA included. I ask the Minister to go back to the DAA again and ask it to reconsider this.

I obviously have some sympathy for the residents in terms of their frustration with the situation in which they find themselves. However, when the law or legal action comes into issues of this sort, it rather takes it out of the hands of politicians and Ministers. We cannot be seen to intervene in the legal process in any way or to do or say anything that would be prejudicial. I am informed that the legal advice which the DAA received subsequent to the reply which I gave in this House was such that it put it in a situation where it made this decision. Having made a decision of this sort and having said that its legal advice is not to hand over that particular information, it is unfortunate that it happened in that time. However, I will not interfere with, or comment on, the situation.

I put it to the Minister that the issue of litigation is a convenient excuse for the DAA to not fulfil the obligations which it had all along. Had it discharged its duties and functions as it should have six months ago when residents asked for the information, the issue would not have arisen. We now have a scenario where homeowners are facing the uncertainty of negotiations and dialogue with the DAA about the purchasing of their homes and how their lives will be post the new runway. The uncertainty has extended to members of the Traveller community who have a halting site and residential development on DAA lands, which will also have to be relocated. This group is also being sidelined. While the Minister may not be able to interfere in litigation, the Minister does have a role in asking the DAA to engage much more responsibly with surrounding communities if they want to have their project fulfilled in the area.

I thank the Deputy for her contribution. If members of the Traveller community are adversely affected by this, I would urge the DAA to meet them to discuss those problems. I would be very happy to meet them myself.

I do not think the Deputy would question my bona fides on the interaction between the DAA and the Traveller community or between the DAA and local residents. I have facilitated I think virtually every residents' group with a meeting and passed on their problems to the DAA where appropriate and I will continue to do so. There is a constant problem of large organisations being confronted with difficulties and smaller groups feeling absolutely helpless in the face of State monopolies. I will facilitate these smaller groups and do everything I can to help any members of the Traveller community or any other small community or residents of the area who are adversely affected by the work of the DAA. However, I will not intervene in or say anything which prejudices any legal action or legal case.

Tourism Promotion

Robert Troy

Ceist:

46. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will increase the tourism marketing budget to mitigate the decline in visitor numbers from the UK experienced in the first quarter of 2017; and his plans to implement a business support fund to aid small to medium-sized tourism businesses affected by the decline in visitors from Britain. [22125/17]

Will the Minister now acknowledge that Brexit poses a real threat to the tourism industry, something he did not seem concerned about originally when the result of the referendum came out? I refer specifically to the decline in visitor numbers from the UK in the first quarter of 2017. Will he confirm to the House whether he has any intentions to increase the marketing budget to Tourism Ireland to mitigate this decline in visitor numbers?

Following what was a record year for overseas visitors to Ireland in 2016, recent figures published by the CSO showed that overseas visitors in the first quarter of 2017 were slightly up on 2016.  While there was strong growth from the North American market, visitors from Britain were down 6.5% year on year.

It is too early to state definitively the reasons for this decline and whether it will carry through to the remainder of the year. It is clear, however, that the depreciation of sterling following the Brexit referendum has made Ireland, and every other eurozone country, more expensive for British travellers than was the case previously. Furthermore, research has indicated that British consumers are likely to scale back on overseas holiday activity this year.

The tourism action plan is committed to seeking to restore the tourism marketing fund to pre-recession levels on a phased basis. I have secured increased funding for the tourism marketing fund this year of over 2% and will seek further additional funding for next year to mitigate any negative effects of Brexit on tourism. Tourism Ireland will continue to focus on protecting our market share in Britain while at the same time seeking to increase diversification into other markets, particularly those that deliver higher tourism revenue.

Fáilte Ireland is also working on a number of fronts to assist the diversification and development of our tourism industry and the attractiveness of our tourism product offering.  Ongoing work to develop the main experience brands and enhance visitor experiences is aimed at boosting our appeal to key target markets and priority consumer segments.  Regarding training and business supports, Fáilte Ireland offers a suite of supports to enhance the competitiveness, enterprise capability and sustainability of the tourism sector.  In addition, it is creating a new Brexit response programme that will focus on delivering a capability building programme for industry.

Maintaining the overall competitiveness in our tourism industry is also vital at this time. While the industry itself acknowledges its primary responsibility in this regard, I will be endeavouring to assist by seeking to maintain the lower VAT rate for the tourism industry and to keep the air travel tax at zero.

No one disputes that tourism is a critical sector. Last year, 9 million visitors contributed €4.5 billion in revenue, supporting 220,000 jobs. It is a critical sector. I acknowledge there have been previous initiatives that have supported the sector, but I raise this in the context of Brexit. We cannot rest on our laurels and be complacent about the fact that visitor numbers from other destinations are up. The simple fact of the matter is that 41% of tourists coming to this country come from the UK, a figure that fell significantly in the first quarter of this year. While I do not want to cause alarm, we need to put in place a plan to mitigate this. Not only have we a decrease in the number of visitors from the UK, we are now competing with the UK, which offers a fairly similar experience to that which one can get in Ireland. The UK Government, following the Brexit vote, allocated in excess of £35 million to its marketing fund in order that it can market the country. What specific items-----

The Deputy is out of time. I call the Minister.

-----is the Minister implementing to mitigate the decrease in visitors from the UK?

The Deputy has taken 30 seconds over his allotted time. I ask him to watch the clock.

The Deputy is correct to raise this as a serious issue, flag it as a difficulty and ask the question about the response, and there is alarm about Brexit, especially its effect on tourism. However, I point out to him, notwithstanding the recent CSO figures, and I think he is referring to visitors from Britain, that Tourism Ireland aims to grow overseas tourism revenue by a further 4.5% in 2017. The issue is to find new markets and address the matter through the Brexit response. Tourism Ireland has sought additional funding for the tourism marketing fund to address urgently the declining share of voice advertising awareness in key markets overseas; increase focus and investment in the short to medium term in mainland Europe and North America; defend Ireland's tourism position in the vital Great Britain market, dealing with the emerging threats and securing business while also maximising opportunities for the future; and accelerate investment in developing markets, building on the outcomes of the developing markets review recently completed-----

I must ask the Minister to stick to the time.

-----for the medium to long term.

I ask Deputy Troy to be brief. I want to be fair to other Members.

The Minister mentioned his plan for 2025, but that is for 10 million visitors and revenue of €5 billion. That is totally unambitious in the context of our position now. We need a new plan that takes on board the effects of Brexit. I compliment Tourism Ireland on the work it has done in the past. It is now ranked third in the world from a marketing perspective out of 141 countries by the World Economic Forum. I ask the Minister to consider what it has done as a company in marketing this country over recent years with a substantially reduced marketing fund. I welcome his commitment today to maintain the 0% landing charge at airports and his commitment to the 9% VAT rate for the hospitality sector but we need to see a greater level of investment in our marketing budget and our capital budget to ensure that when people come here, they have a good experience and there are things to see and do.

I thank the Deputy for acknowledging that we have a commitment to the tourism industry, particularly in the area of tax, specifically VAT and the air travel tax. I hope this commitment will remain intact for many years to come because I think its effect has been to increase tourism in this country, which will be increasingly necessary, especially in the situation in which we find ourselves because of Brexit. The Government's response to Brexit acknowledges that a number of key sectors will be impacted significantly, including tourism. To mitigate these risks, the Government is taking a five-pronged approach, as part of which we will continue to manage our economy and the public finances prudently to enable us to meet future challenges; negotiate effectively as part of the EU 27 with the objective of reaching an agreement that sees the closest possible relationship between the EU and the UK while ensuring a strong and well-functioning EU; and continue supporting business and the economy through Government measures, programmes and strategies.

Road Projects Expenditure

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

47. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the estimated cost of the proposed upgrade to the M11 as outlined in Transport Infrastructure Ireland's recently published M11-N11 corridor study; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21960/17]

I was a little disheartened to read the recent AECOM report which came out last month, carried out for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, on the M11-N11 corridor. Among other things, the study advocates enhanced capacity on the M11 in the form of an 8 km third lane from junctions 4 to 8. The thinking is that the third lane will ease bottleneck congestion at rush hour periods. While I understand these are recommendations and not a definitive plan, will the Minister outline whether he supports the recommendations in the report and how much it would cost to carry out such an upgrade?

I thank Deputy Wallace for his question which relates to a road with which he and I are both familiar for obvious reasons. I travel on it every day, including this morning. As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding in relation to the national roads programme. The planning, design and implementation of individual national road projects is a matter for Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015 in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. Within its capital budget, the assessment and prioritisation of individual projects is a matter in the first instance for TII in accordance with section 19 of the Roads Act.

I understand from TII that the aim of the strategic study of the M11-N11 corridor is to consider the National Transport Authority's Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area 2016-2035, which has identified that, in addition to public transport improvements or investments along the M11-N11 corridor, additional road infrastructure or capacity is required. TII has considered various possible interventions to reduce congestion on the corridor and cater for continued growth in the Wicklow area. These interventions include upgrades to the M11 junctions, widening of sections of the M11 to three lanes, provision of service roads to address direct access and some local road improvements to assist in providing better links between local areas.

As stated in the report, the proposals in the study are indicative at this stage and need further development, including engineering design and appraisal. Accordingly, a full costing of the proposals is not available at this point.

The Minister did not indicate whether he is in favour of the project. I ask him to clarify his position.

Successive Governments have incentivised the use of cars by building motorways and refusing to invest in public transport. While the works proposed on the M11-N11 corridor would ease one bottleneck by creating an 8 km stretch of three-lane roadway, it would merely help drivers to travel a little quicker to the start of the dual carriageway and a new bottleneck. The towns that stand to benefit most from the project are Bray, Greystones and Wicklow, all of which are served by rail. Why does the Government not invest in improving the rail line from Connolly Station to Rosslare? We all hope Rosslare Port will become more significant in the years ahead. In light of increased road congestion, would it not be commonsense to start investing more in rail?

The Deputy has strayed some distance from his original question. I am not averse to investing more in rail lines if good and cogent reasons are provided for doing so. If there was a commercial imperative for increasing investment in rail, it would be perfectly acceptable to do so.

Most rail lines are not commercially viable.

If Deputy Wallace can present a good case for more investment, let us address the issue but it would have to make commercial sense.

Public transport does not make commercial sense.

Deputy Wallace knows the route from Dublin to Rosslare well. We could certainly examine the issue, although I emphasise that it would be an operational matter for Iarnród Éireann. The company would certainly be prepared to listen to the Deputy if he had any suggestions to offer.

Transport Infrastructure Ireland is seeking funding under the mid-term capital review to commence work related to capacity improvements to the N11 between the M50 and Kilmacanogue, at an estimated cost of €30 million within the timeframe of the existing capital plan. Given that measures have not been finally decided upon at this stage, not to speak of designed, this should not be considered an estimate of the overall likely cost. It is, however, indicative of the anticipated expenditure on some measures within the period of the plan.

I assure the Minister that it is currently not possible to increase the number of lanes on an 8 km stretch of motorway from two to three for less than €10 million per kilometre, which gives a total cost of €80 million as opposed to €30 million. The Minister only uses the N11 from Enniskerry. If he were to drive from Rosslare to Dublin, he would find that the absence of jobs in Wexford means the road is congested again with builders driving to Dublin for work. It would be great if people had access to a decent and fast rail network, which we do not have currently. It would be wonderful if the Government was prepared to invest in rail.

The North Sea-Mediterranean core network corridor includes the route from Cork to Dublin and across the Irish Sea to England. This route will close after Brexit, which means the nearest point of access to the Continent will be through Rosslare Port. The route from Belfast through Dublin and Rosslare and into France should be the new corridor. Brexit will impact on European funding and investment in the core network corridor. It is common sense to invest in the rail line between Dublin and Rosslare to link up to the Continent. Such investment would be an example of forward and joined-up thinking.

I am always open to suggestions of this sort. I will refer the Deputy's proposal to the Department and obtain a response for him if he likes because, on the surface, it appears sensible. I have no doubt the Department will have some comments to make on it. The Deputy can have an interaction with officials on the issue. While I frequently travel from Enniskerry to Dublin on the N11, I also go further and I am frequently puzzled to find that the clear stretch of road between Shankill and Ashford suddenly gives way to a traffic jam on the dual carriageway. This is a most unusual phenomenon which will have to be addressed. I hope it will be addressed after the mid-term capital review.

The reason for the traffic jam-----

I ask the Deputy not to interrupt me. He can speak again in a moment.

There is a shortfall in the existing capacity of the M11-N11 mainline corridor and capacity will need to be increased as far south as junction 8 Kilmacanogue, which is just beyond the area to which the Deputy referred.

We must move on to the next question.

The Minister indicated I could speak again. The petrol station in Kilmacanogue is a key reason for the bottleneck to which the Minister referred.

Military Aircraft Landings

Clare Daly

Ceist:

48. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if an aircraft (details supplied) sought and received permission to transport arms or munitions through Shannon Airport on either of the dates it was at the airport. [22103/17]

This question relates to National Air Cargo flight No. N176CA, which arrived at Shannon Airport from Norfolk US naval base on 20 April headed for Kuwait International Airport. The aircraft landed at Incirlik airbase in south east Turkey before returning to Shannon Airport. Given that it operated on a US military call sign, was an exemption sought for carrying weapons or ammunition on either of the dates on which it was at Shannon Airport?

The Air Navigation (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Order, SI 224 1973, as amended, provides that no munitions or weapons of war may be carried by an aircraft in Irish airspace without an exemption granted under the order. I confirm that, in accordance with Article 5 of the Air Navigation (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Order 1973, a munition of war permit was issued on 13 April 2017 for each of the National Airlines flights that landed in Shannon on 20 and 21 April 2017.

I tabled the question in response to a reply received by Shannonwatch in February when it lodged a freedom of information request for correspondence and records relating to a sample of 12 US military contracted flights which landed in Shannon Airport or flew through Irish airspace in October 2016. These were classified as civilian rather than military flights, even though they had military call signs and were operated by airlines that have indefinite delivery or indefinite quantity contracts to provide these services to the US military. In its response, the Department stated it had no records or information in respect of flights by Sun Country Airlines, UPS Airlines and National Air Cargo. The problem is that all of the Sun Country Airlines flights listed in the freedom of information request were en route to the NATO airbase on the Turkish border with Syria, which is the primary location used by the US military for airstrikes against Syria and Iraq. It is beyond belief that these aircraft would travel through Irish airspace and would not be involved in military activity. The answer provided to Shannonwatch indicated that either the United States did not provide the Department with information on the flights or the Department did not provide information on them to Shannonwatch because the record shows that exemptions were not sought for many of them.

I am not familiar with those specific cases, so I will ask my Department to clarify the situation for the Deputy.

The Deputy also referred to the Turkish-Syrian situation, but that is a matter for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, not me. I have made and will make decisions on grounds of safety, have made certain demands and refused permission to several aircraft on safety grounds, but I am not entitled to do so on grounds of policy. That is a matter that the Deputy should refer to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Due to the obvious need in this regard, I decided recently that my Department should conduct an internal review of the aforementioned statutory instrument, the Air Navigation (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Order 1973, as amended. Given the age of that order and changes to international law since 1973, particularly as regards dangerous goods-----

The Minister might continue that point in his next response, if he does not mind.

-----I am of the view that it would be timely to carry out a full review of SI 224 of 1973, the Air Navigation (Carriage of Munitions of War, Weapons and Dangerous Goods) Order.

Deputy Wallace wishes to contribute as well. Deputy Clare Daly will speak first.

A review is long overdue and badly needed. Based on freedom of information requests, the indication is that the Department does not have reliable information. I remind the Minister that the Hague convention on neutrality specifically prohibits the transportation of munitions of war. It does not say that they must be on military aircraft - their transportation on civilian aircraft is also prohibited. The Minister must sign off on these craft before they are given an exemption. I remind him that, when Deputy Wallace moved his Bill in 2015, the Minister stated that he had deep concerns about this matter and that he regretted Ireland bending its knee to foreign authorities, for example, the US. He should follow through on that and there should be a strict timeframe for this review. There are flights through Shannon more than once per day with different call signs and military tags on civilian aircraft. They are not travelling for nothing. They are doing it for a reason. Those foreign authorities are heavily invested in war zones and we are facilitating that situation.

Regardless of what is written on these civilian aircraft, the Minister's Department is responsible for them. Does he not believe that it is long past time that we stopped allowing Shannon to be used as a US military base for wreaking havoc in areas of the Middle East and beyond? We understand that this issue is not all under the Minister's remit, given that the Departments of Justice and Equality and Defence are also involved, but he is responsible for civilian aircraft and there are civilian aircraft carrying munitions through Shannon to cause destruction and kill people day and night in other regions. Does he believe that we should still be facilitating that?

I thank the Deputies for straying into the area of foreign affairs, which is something that I do not intend to get into this afternoon. My duty, job and function in this matter are purely related to grounds of safety and civilian aircraft. That is where the question is. That said, and given the need to define the various functions between the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Justice and Equality and Transport, Tourism and Sport more clearly, I have launched a full root and branch review of the statutory instrument. That is what I propose to do. In light of the fact that so many aspects of the statutory instrument require review, it is likely that implementing the recommendations will require a new statutory instrument to replace SI 224, rather than piecemeal amendments to bring it into line with EU legislation. That is where I will leave the matter for the moment.

Traffic Management

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

49. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to alleviate congestion in Dublin within the next four years, in view of the estimated annual cost of €350 million due to delays in traffic. [22109/17]

Imelda Munster

Ceist:

85. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the way in which he plans to manage the situation outlined in recent reports from his Department's economic and financial evaluation unit that the cost of traffic congestion in the greater Dublin area is €350 million annually and that this could rise to €2 billion a year within 15 years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22123/17]

My question is set in the context of the latest report, according to which the €350 million cost of traffic blockages in Dublin will increase to €2 billion unless we do something about the issue. I am keen to hear about the Minister's measures to reduce congestion. Everyone can see that, with the economy growing quickly, Dublin's traffic is like the Richter scale - when traffic volume increases by 5%, congestion increases by 20% or 30% as roads near their capacity limits, which is the case currently. What does the Minister intend to do about this?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 49 and 85 together.

I recognise that there is considerable evidence emerging of increased travel demand across the Dublin region in particular, with growing traffic levels on many of its roads and streets. The welcome increase in employment has impacted on transport, not only through the beginning of a recovery in public transport numbers, but also through increased car usage and the re-emergence of peak period congestion.

In recognition of this growing body of evidence, my Department's economic and financial evaluation unit has undertaken a research project to estimate the cost of congestion in the greater Dublin area. As Deputy Ryan noted, the analysis estimates that the cost of time lost due to congestion in the area is €350 million per annum and is forecast to rise to €2 billion per annum in 2033.

My Department has worked closely with the National Transport Authority, NTA, in recent months to develop an approach to tackling congestion in Dublin. Major road development is not the solution to our congestion issue. Our best option in the short-to-medium term is to focus on sustainable modes. This means increasing public transport usage supplemented by cycling and walking for shorter trips.

I am pleased to inform Members that the NTA will launch an important initiative at the end of May that will seek to transform the bus system in the Dublin region. The core elements of the initiative lie in the transformation of the bus system, but other elements, such as new cycling infrastructure, will help to improve mobility. I did not intend to give Deputy Eamon Ryan this information until he pressed me so hard earlier.

The NTA will progress the early stages of the initiative through public consultation on bus network design, engagement with local authorities concerning bus corridors and a major public consultation on proposals for individual corridors. The implementation of this significant initiative will serve to transition Dublin to a city with a modern, efficient and effective bus system that provides a world-class transport service. This work has been an important consideration in formulating my overall approach to tackling congestion in the short-to-medium term and forms a key part of the case for a step change in public transport investment as part of the mid-term review of the Government's capital plan.

In the time available, I will use the additional information that I have to elaborate further on the initiative. The proposal's aim is to overhaul the entire Dublin bus system and entails a suite of measures to transform the network of bus corridors with segregated cycling, a simpler fare structure, new bus branding, three bus rapid transit routes, a cashless payment system, new bus stops and shelters, a complete redesign of the bus network, a state-of-the-art ticketing system and the use of low-emission vehicles. The next step is the launch of the programme by the end of May, with public consultation on the bus network redesign to begin in early June, a subsequent engagement with local authorities and strategic transport committee chairpersons to agree an approach to consultation on individual bus corridors and a major public consultation later this year giving details of the proposals on the individual corridors, including the bus rapid transit routes. Key outcomes noted will be a transformation of the Dublin bus system, a fast and reliable bus service, journey times on many routes reducing by a third or more thanks to continued bus lanes, connecting more people to more places, a programme that delivers across the region, safe and largely segregated cycling facilities and providing Dublin with a world-class bus transport service.

That initiative will be welcome. I agree that the main response to our traffic problem must be buses and cycling and pedestrian facilities in the first instance.

We have been talking about it for 20 years and I am slightly nervous that if we are just saying we are going into a consultation process, it is not real. For this to be real, there has to be a budget allocation in 2018. This has to be agreed over the summer as part of the budget process and it has to be substantial.

I mentioned earlier the projects that are ready to go, such as the Liffey cycle route, the Sutton-to-Sandycove bike route, the Dodder greenway, the Tolka greenway and the Santry greenway. These would all have a major effect in terms of making the city work, in addition to the bus measures the Minister mentioned. However, when we talk to local authority officials to see if these projects can be advanced, they say they do not have a single penny to do it. If this is to be real on both the bus and cycling front, yes, let us consult, but we have been doing that for 20 years. More than anything else, the Minister's seriousness or otherwise will depend on whether the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform allocates him the funding and whether he allocates within his own budget the funding for 2018 to make this real. Otherwise, there will be deep cynicism that we are just talking again as the gridlock gets ever worse.

I thank the Deputy for his partly positive response. It might be sensible for him to sit back and look at this when it is presented at the end of May, and then make a judgment on it. However, it is a very serious proposal that will require an enormous amount of funding. For those who say we have no vision and no plans, here is a concrete and very constructive plan for relieving congestion in the Dublin region, which we in government acknowledge is a very serious problem. That is why the NTA has already made several presentations on this matter. My officials have seen the plans and they welcome them and believe they will make real progress in relieving congestion in the city, in moving people to efficient bus services and bus corridors, in improving cycling facilities and in being part of what has been the Government's policy and vision for a very long time.

As the Deputy said, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating but the first step is now. We will have a public consultation. However, that does not indicate some sort of lack of will. It means we will take from other people - I include the Deputy because I know his commitment to this - their suggestions and constructive proposals on the matter.

I am positive but I reiterate the key point that there is no point doing this consultation if it is not done at the same time that the Minister indicates the budget is there to deliver it. As I said, the problem lies at the heart of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, which historically, for many years, have had a flawed economic analysis that always favoured new roads over public transport and cycling infrastructure. If the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Government are serious, let us do the consultation at the same time that we are doing the budget process - I am on the budgetary oversight committee, so I have oversight of this. There needs to be a radical and fundamental shift in the Department's budget allocation for 2018, and not any further into the future, because that is when we need to start making amends. If it does that, we will have a much more serious, productive and real public consultation system because everyone will know the Department is going to lead to real change, not just more of the same talk we have had over the past 20 years.

It appears this is positive news but the devil will be in the detail and we are eager to see the detail of the Minister's proposals. This simply must not be about an announcement made to great fanfare and the Minister's aspirations must be backed up with the necessary resources. At present, transport in the capital city is in gridlock and it takes a huge amount of time for people to make very short journeys, which is having a negative impact on people's personal and family lives and on their mental well-being. It has to be said that the Minister's actions in the past 12 months would not lead us to say he will take on board the views of stakeholders. When will the Minister inform the House of the plans in detail?

I anticipate that the launch of this project will happen before the end of the month and I am quite happy to have a debate in the House, to answer questions or to go to the joint committee on this issue, perhaps with the NTA. Anything that is necessary in order to inform people of this, I will do it. However, I do not think it would be helpful if we started suggesting the record of the Government in the last year has been this, that and the other. Let us look positively at this. Let us look at it with a very objective view. People talk about a lack of vision and have been critical about that, perhaps rightly so. However, this is part of a vision which I think we all share, which is to get people out of their cars and into buses, to get bus corridors working, to consequently reduce emissions and to resolve traffic congestion. That is what we are looking to do and, while this is only part of it, buses will be a major aspect. This will involve more investment in buses and in public transport, although that does not mean less investment in roads. That is the commitment we are making.

Railway Stations

Brendan Ryan

Ceist:

50. Deputy Brendan Ryan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if his attention has been drawn to a security system for train stations (details supplied) which is designed to replace the need for staff at train stations and comprises of a CCTV system monitored at a remote site by a security firm; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21956/17]

Brendan Ryan

Ceist:

68. Deputy Brendan Ryan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to implement a policy of staffed train stations throughout the country in order to improve the security at train stations and to assist persons with disabilities to avail of train services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21955/17]

I am becoming increasingly concerned about the impact of unmanned or under-staffed railway stations. The level of anti-social behaviour at train stations is increasing and the impact on disabled travellers is very serious indeed. This is not just a local issue for me. I know from speaking with other colleagues it is a real problem not only throughout Dublin but all over the country.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 50 and 68 together.

The Deputy is presumably aware that issues such as those set out above are operational matters for Iarnród Éireann and not issues in which I have any statutory function. I am, however, informed by Iarnród Éireann that the company has instituted some remote monitoring from Howth Junction covering all stations along the DART and commuter network. This is designed to enhance station security and is separate from consideration of staffing issues at stations. Iarnród Éireann states that it has not at this time changed staffing at DART stations. However, the company is keeping staffing under review as there have been changes in customers’ purchasing preferences. Overall, only 17% of revenue is now via the traditional booking office and booking office volumes dropped by as much as 55% in a single year in some locations, as overall passenger numbers rose.

Iarnród Éireann's priorities in determining staffing levels are as follows: to ensure busier stations are manned at all times; to provide a more flexible resourcing to respond to customer demand and improve response for customers requiring assistance; to ensure a safe and secure environment, working with a live monitored CCTV system, contracted private security resources and Garda liaison; and to ensure revenue is protected, working with the company's revenue protection unit. I am also informed that Iarnród Éireann hopes to confirm shortly new arrangements for mobility-impaired customers requiring assistance, which will dramatically reduce the advised notice time and ensure a better response when customers requiring assistance cannot give notice. These new arrangements have been developed in close consultation with relevant representative organisations. Furthermore, Iarnród Éireann has commenced the recruitment process for summer temporary employees in the greater Dublin area to ensure the company has the necessary customer service resources in place at stations for the busy summer months.

At a recent public joint policing committee meeting, it arose that Irish Rail will be, or perhaps already is, employing a system whereby stations are being monitored remotely through CCTV cameras. If any situation arises, a person who is sitting in front of a screen bank can call gardaí and also, through a speaker system on the train platform, warn any vandals to cease their actions. If this is a strategic decision to cut costs and keep staff out of train stations, it is not acceptable. Quite simply, it is no substitute for having staff at stations.

One aspect of this is the impact on coastal communities on rail lines at weekends. Young people are being ferried free of charge on trains to places like Donabate, Portmarnock, Malahide, Skerries, Balbriggan and Rush. They board a train without a ticket and know they will not be checked at the coastal destination. In many cases, they are travelling to cause vandalism and to commit crime against these communities. As a senior garda said at the meeting to which I referred, we cannot have local communities suffering as a result of cost-cutting measures by a State-owned body.

I agree 100% with that sentiment and the effect is to give free travel for some criminals.

I am told by Iarnród Éireann that it has not changed its staffing policies at DART stations, although it is keeping all this under review. If the Deputy-----

I referred also to commuter stations.

If the Deputy has any specific cases, I would be happy to bring them to Iarnród Éireann's attention. I am not aware of them but I will certainly do so, and I will ensure that the company responds to the Deputy.

We all welcome the CCTV cameras. Monitored CCTV cameras are a good development but they are no replacement for a well-staffed train station. The Minister states this is an operational issue for Irish Rail, but Irish Rail is answerable to the Minister and the Minister does have power.

We have train stations which have become no-go areas for people. People are choosing alternative transport solutions due to their fear of passing through certain stations late at night. We do not invest millions of euro on State infrastructure only to cut costs and corners once a station is operational.

Staff provide proper surveillance. They can be better than any security team and, certainly, more effective than a person sitting in front of a bank of television monitors.

Having staffless train stations also has other impacts which I have raised previously, particularly for those with disabilities. If a person who uses a wheelchair wishes to use the train system, he or she needs assistance to get on a train, and it is made worse by the staffless stations. They need trained station staff. Wheelchair users are not presenting themselves to some train stations at certain times because of the aforementioned change and this is not acceptable.

Deputy Brendan Ryan is welcome to take me up on my offer about safety and the lack of staff in any particular instance where he believes that is the case.

On mobility, Iarnród Éireann plans to confirm new pilot arrangements for mobility-impaired customers requiring assistance very shortly. These will dramatically reduce the advice notice time and ensure a better response when customers requiring assistance cannot give notice. This is being designed following extensive customer research and liaison with its disability users group. While final details are being confirmed, the intent is to ensure that the advised notice period reduces from the current 24 hours to a fraction of this by guaranteeing staffing across grouped stations and ensuring flexibility to enable staff move between stations within each group to provide assistance.

Furthermore, Iarnród Éireann is working with individual users and representative bodies to explore the use of technology or apps to enhance assistance and response further. Additionally, improved information on lift issues and improved station signage and awareness measures are planned.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.