Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

I wish to point out to Members the procedure for questions. There are 30 seconds, and 30 seconds only, for Deputies to put their questions and the Minister has two minutes to respond. Deputies have a supplementary question and the Minister answers it. There is a final supplementary question and a final answer from the Minister. I ask Members to adhere strictly to that so that we get through as many questions as possible.

Bus Services

John Lahart

Ceist:

1. Deputy John Lahart asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on the delay between the implementation of the BusConnects network redesign and the planned roll out of the new core bus corridors and lanes. [52436/18]

I thank the Acting Chairman for the riding instruction. What are the Minister's views on the delay between BusConnects phase 2, which relates to the bus spines and new corridors that we, on this side of the House, strongly support, and the implementation of phase 1, which relates to the network changes?

As the Deputy is aware BusConnects is one of the flagship investments to be delivered under Project Ireland 2040 and the ten year national development plan, NDP. The programme is made up of a number of different components, namely, building a new network of improved bus and cycle lanes; redesigning and expanding the network of bus services; introducing simpler fare structures and new ticketing technology; implementing a new bus livery; providing new and improved bus stops and shelters and new park and ride sites; and, importantly, transitioning the entire urban PSO bus fleet to low emission technologies.

The objective of these proposals under BusConnects is to improve bus journey times that will benefit many millions of passenger journeys each year; provide a bus service that is easier to use and understand; enable more people to travel by bus than ever before; and also provide a network of cycling infrastructure that will enable more people to cycle across the city.

Each of the components is significant in its own right while collectively they have the potential to transform how we use the bus in Dublin and in the other cities when rolled out there. The Deputy's question seems to suggest discord where none exists. All significant investment programmes such as BusConnects are made up of different components which can be progressed at different times and at different speeds.

With BusConnects Dublin, the National Transport Authority, NTA, has been running the consultation phase on two distinct components, first, the network redesign - this is about configuration of all the bus services that will run for passengers - and, second, the proposed new bus lanes. These are the dedicated road infrastructure that will form the 16 main corridors into the city on which the bus services, and cycleways, will run.

We all know of the significant public consultation that has taken place in recent months in relation to the bus network. There was a huge response to that consultation, with more than 30,000 submissions.  The NTA is currently considering all submissions received with a view to issuing a revised network design for further public consultation in 2019.

It is envisaged that the implementation of the final network will take place in 2020. The network redesign can be implemented on the existing road network with some enhancements at key interchange locations which will be provided as we roll out the new network.

I know the Minister supports this, as do we on this side of the House. Phase 2 puts in place the infrastructure. We believe it makes more sense to implement phase 1 first, to put in place the corridors, and then change the network. According to a briefing we received last week by the NTA and Dublin Bus, some of these corridors will not be in place until 2027, the date for the construction completion and implementation of the metro. What will happen between now and then? There will be an increases in the bus fleet and a network redesign, about which the Minister and I both had issues, despite our support for the project from the start. What will happen between 2020 and 2027 as traffic congestion increases in the city and without the corridors to carry it? What are the Minister's plans for this?

I will try to answer the Deputy's question. Bus corridors are not the first thing to go in in this situation. The last major overhaul of the bus network in Dublin was implemented without any infrastructure developments accompanying it. The network redesign, which is the first thing, can be done in advance of the introduction of the new bus lanes. This will obviously take time. A large number of corridors, 16, will be brought in. It will not all be put in in 2027. There is a process which will involve many different applications, representations and consultations because they are controversial. It is not the case that we will plonk them down in 2026-2027, and the gap that the Deputy is suggesting is not the case.

There will be a planning process. There will be some compulsory purchase orders, which is regrettable but that will happen. There will be a large amount of public consultation to ensure that the corridors are put in the correct places and convenient to the people involved and the residents who will be affected. It will be a long process, not a short one, but it is for the convenience of the Deputy's constituents and my own.

That is the point - it is a long process. I would love if the Minster devoted the same energy as he does to traffic safety, which is laudable, into a dynamic intervention into this. People cannot be encouraged or expected to switch from cars to buses if the bus infrastructure is not in place.

This speaks to the matter that arises time and again. I raised it yesterday with respect to the policing of bus corridors and the Minister did not particularly respond on any initiatives. This is the kind of matter that should keep the Minister and me up at night thinking of solutions for the intermediate term. It will be ten years before that bus corridor network is filled. How can we hope to encourage drivers to switch from cars to bus services if there are no corridors in place and if the project is not to be completed until 2027? That will lead to completely obstacle-free routes, leaving buses as essentially a Luas tram on rubber wheels, but drivers will have to wait for ten years until the entire infrastructure is built.

I would like the Minister to take a real leadership role in pushing this on and meeting representatives of the National Transport Authority, NTA, to make it happen as quickly as possible. We must get the compulsory purchase orders and a couple of eggs will have to be broken to make this omelette but we must get the NTA to push this through. The Minister should devise some intermediate solutions to encourage drivers to switch from cars to public transport.

I appreciate the sense of urgency displayed by the Deputy and I also have that sense of urgency. He should not be under the impression that nothing will happen with bus corridors in the next decade. A National Transport Authority-led public consultation on four of its new bus lanes in Dublin started on Wednesday, 14 November, as the Deputy is aware. It runs until early next year. The corridors are Clongriffin to the city centre, Swords to the city centre, Blanchardstown to the city centre and Lucan to the city centre. As I stated, there are to be 16 corridors in total and consultations on the next six will start in January and run until April. Consultations on the final six will start in February and run until May. Phasing the consultations will allow for the appropriate level of engagement with property owners and communities along each route. It is really important that these consultations are given time and space. Nobody wants to see these bus corridors become invasive or an impediment to people's daily lives. We want to see as much accord, agreement and consent as possible given to the process, and it will take time. The idea that they will not happen until 2027 is wrong and the consultation processes are beginning already. The processes will go on and they will be phased in. They will not all happen in parallel as that is not necessary.

Public Transport

Imelda Munster

Ceist:

2. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the measures he plans to put in place in order to tackle the increasing number of attacks on the public transport network; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52270/18]

What measures does the Minister intend to put in place in order to tackle the ever-increasing number of attacks occurring on the public transport network? There were reports in the media that the Government was considering the establishment of a dedicated transport police to deal with crime on public transport and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport was meet the Minister for Justice and Equality on the matter. What was the outcome of that and what plans have been outlined?

I thank the Deputy for putting the question, as the matter is of concern to a large number of Deputies, particularly in the Dublin area. It is a matter of some angst for people on some modes of transport and less in others. It is a relevant and well-intentioned question.

The safety and security of public transport passengers and staff, including arrangements to deal with anti-social behaviour, are important matters that, first and foremost, must be managed by every public transport company in conjunction with An Garda Síochána where appropriate. Whereas the vast majority of public transport passenger journeys occur without incident, I am concerned to ensure that the necessary arrangements are in place to guarantee the safety of all passengers and staff travelling and working on our bus and rail networks. Therefore, following representations from the National Bus and Rail Union seeking the establishment of a dedicated police force for public transport, my Department wrote to Iarnród Éireann, Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus to seek their views on the issue of anti-social behaviour and ensuring the safety of both passengers and staff.

In its response, Iarnród Éireann outlined a number of measures that the company has taken in an effort to safeguard the security of passengers and staff. These measures have included the allocation of additional security and supervisory operatives, particularly at night and in certain areas, as well as more resources for centralised closed circuit television, CCTV, monitoring stations. The company also emphasised that it works closely with An Garda Síochána on anti-social behaviour in general and receives the full support of the Garda. More recently, Iarnród Éireann has advised that security and supervisory operatives have been allocated, particularly at night, in certain areas and at sensitive times, such as the Christmas period. In addition, I understand Iarnród Éireann has now commenced the deployment of on-board customer service officers on intercity trains; their primary focus will be on customer service but their presence is intended to deter anti-social behaviour and will enable rapid contact with security or An Garda Síochána should this be required.

Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus responded that the level of anti-social behaviour is relatively low and noted a declining trend, which is very positive. Both companies also stressed the strong and close working relationships with An Garda Síochána. Dublin Bus has advised my Department that it will have enhanced levels of co-operation and engagement with An Garda Síochána over the Christmas period. The company has highlighted the areas of greatest risk and requested additional support.

As the Minister is aware, public transport companies are already under-resourced and need additional support from the Government to deal with this. It is my understanding it costs Iarnród Éireann upwards of €3 million per year to provide security services. The Minister also knows that security personnel do not have the power of arrest and it is arguable that the presence of gardaí would be a stronger deterrent to would-be criminals or those causing anti-social behaviour. Currently, transport workers and passengers feel threatened because of a lack of security and the Minister should be aware of recent media reports of an apparent increase in anti-social behaviour. It is a worry not just for workers but for passengers. The Minister indicated the Government would look at a new and specific policing unit but has that idea been shelved? Does the Minister have an update on that? I have taken on board his response.

The Deputy mentioned the need for additional resources and I have given Iarnród Éireann an extra €115,000, of which I know the Deputy is aware. That has come from my Department's Vote very late in the year in order to assist with this specific problem. The additional funding from the Vote will enable Irish Rail to take further measures that can reassure passengers and staff that they will be able to travel and work in safety and peace over the festive season. Irish Rail has spent €100,000 of this on extra security patrols on evening DART and commuter services between Dublin city centre and Howth, Drogheda, Maynooth, Kildare and Greystones. These patrols will be in addition to Iarnród Éireann's existing measures to safeguard the travelling public against anti-social behaviour and the company's long-standing strong working relationship with the Garda Síochána. The remaining €15,000 of the extra funds will be used by Irish Rail to provide additional security personnel at fleet maintenance depots in order to counter the threat of vandalism, including graffiti attacks on trains.

The issue of anti-social behaviour on the public transport network has come increasingly to the fore over recent months thanks to the Deputy and others and we have responded to it. I must also thank Mr. Dermot O'Leary of the NBRU, who also brought this to our attention. We have responded very positively to it because we recognise there is a common interest in looking after both the staff and the passengers.

The additional funding is welcome. Is Iarnród Éireann satisfied it is sufficient to bring about an effective deterrent and curb the rise in anti-social behaviour? Are the unions satisfied that the funding is sufficient? The Minister should be aware there have been more than 1,000 anti-social behaviour incidents in the past 18 months and the rise in incidence across all statistical areas. It is something that must be dealt with promptly and effectively. Are the parties satisfied that the additional funding will help sort out the problem?

I am certainly not aware of them being dissatisfied with being handed €115,000 to alleviate the problem. We will see what happens and what will be the result. We are not even over the Christmas period yet so we cannot see the effect it has had.

They must be pleased with the fact that the Deputy's representations, the trade union's representations, their own representations and our awareness of the fact that appalling things were happening on public transport, made us proactive. I hope they are happy but of course we are happy to talk to them again if they think there is anything more we can do. That is not a promise of funding but it is certainly a promise of support, moral or otherwise for what they are doing.

I have been in touch with the Minister for Justice and Equality and he has been in touch with the Garda Commissioner in turn and it is being looked at very seriously. It is ultimately a matter for the Garda Commissioner.

Olympic Games

Kevin O'Keeffe

Ceist:

3. Deputy Kevin O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on a recent decision by an organisation (details supplied) to suspend the boxing competition at the 2020 Olympics; and if he has made representations on this matter. [52437/18]

I put this question to the Minister of State on the ongoing dispute between the International Olympic Committee and the International Boxing Association. Tokyo 2020 is fast approaching and at the moment it is asked that we suspend boxing competitions from the Olympics. Can the Minister of State please comment?

I thank the Deputy for raising this because it is a very important issue and a serious issue for our boxers.

I am aware of the recent announcement by the International Olympic Committee, IOC, to suspend planning for the Olympic boxing tournament at Tokyo 2020. This announcement was accompanied by a statement of the IOC’s intention to initiate a full inquiry into the internal governance arrangements of the International Boxing Association, AIBA. At present, it is my understanding that the IOC has not yet made a final decision on the inclusion of boxing at the 2020 Olympic Games.

It is important to clarify that international sport organisations, such as the IOC, are independent, autonomous bodies that are responsible for deciding their own operational procedures and competition rules. No government has a role or function in such decision making.

As we know, boxing is our most successful Olympic sport. We have won about 31 medals in the history of the modern Olympics, 16 of which have come in boxing and seven of those were in the last three Olympic Games. There is no doubt that we have a number of really good prospects for Tokyo so it is critically important that we would have this matter resolved. My primary concern in this is for the athletes and to give them certainty. It is very difficult 20 months out from the Olympic Games for an athlete to not know for certain whether their discipline will be included. I want to do whatever I can do to help ensure that certainty is there for those athletes.

I am glad that there is excellent collaboration between Sport Ireland and the Irish Athletic Boxing Association, IABA, on this. I have been in contact with both organisations about this. I contacted them immediately on 30 November to try to ensure that everything that could possibly be done to help the situation is being done and I am confident that is happening. I also understand that on the international front, the IOC has prepared eight possible scenarios around what may happen with boxing but this is certainly something that we will continue to work on and something I am confident that our sports agencies, Sport Ireland and the IABA, are doing everything they can about at the moment.

I acknowledge the Minister of State's response and I appreciate that there are talks ongoing to get the matter resolved, but as he can see, this is an international issue. The issue that has arisen is not just about the quality of the sport, it is about the governance of the organisations in question. In other words, we have governments issuing warrants to the president of the International Boxing Association who, seemingly, has a precarious background. That is why the IABA has been suspended.

All of this is happening in a situation where we have some of the best athletes coming up in boxing. As the Minister of State said himself, it has given our highest return in recent decades in Olympic medals. It would be a shame going forward, for a sport that anyone in society is able to participate in no matter their creed or financial background, if we did not do enough to get this resolved. Tokyo 2020 is only around the corner.

It is and I reiterate that my primary concern is for the athletes. These are the people who basically put their lives on hold, in most cases from the time they are very young, to pursue their dream. To have this level of uncertainty, this relatively close to the Olympics, is just not good enough. It is something that all of the international boxing associations will have to come together on and to work with the IOC to get resolved because at the centre of this are Irish athletes and athletes from other countries who have worked really hard to get to where they are and are now wondering whether they will actually be in Tokyo or not.

On the IABA and Sport Ireland, I am confident that they are doing everything they can possibly do and I am quite happy with the level of interaction that we have had on this to date in terms of trying to get it resolved but I am happy to keep the Deputy informed of developments because it is critically important to the entire sporting nation, given our recent successes. I look at Kellie Harrington's recent success in particular. Kellie and many others have really great prospects for Tokyo 2020 and we want to ensure they have the best possible preparation in advance of that.

The Minister of State fobbed me off again with glossy answers. I have two straight questions. Has the Minister of State spoken to the Irish Athletic Boxing Association?

When the Minister was in the capital of the US, Washington DC recently - where they have initiated concerns about the president of the International Boxing Association - attending the World Anti Doping Agency conference where he made tremendous deliberations, did he not use the opportunity to speak to representatives of the other political bodies that attended that meeting and ask them what was happening with the international boxing situation? Given the Minister's remit in this jurisdiction and the manner in which he is always able to put his hand in someone else's pie, will he tell us whether he talked to them about it in America? That was only two months ago and this issue has been hanging in the balance for over 12 months. We seem to be getting no progress and the future of Irish boxing is in jeopardy because if we do not get recognition at the Olympics it causes trouble.

To be very clear, on 30 November, the very day the IOC made its announcement, I was in direct contact with the IABA asking it to use its influence internationally to try to get this matter addressed and the IABA has called for an emergency meeting of European federations.

Can I respond to that?

The Deputy had a question for me.

I asked the Minister a question.

The time is up and I am moving to Question No. 4 in the name of Deputy Coppinger.

Tender Process

Ruth Coppinger

Ceist:

4. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will report on the tendering of Bus Éireann routes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52230/18]

I ask about the plans of the National Transport Authority, NTA, and by extension the Minister and this Government because I do not believe that there is any independence between them, to privatise public transport and I particularly ask about the impact on Bus Éireann workers and on commuters from the race to the bottom that is being pursued and the rigged system that seems to be operating whereby Bus Éireann is not really allowed to compete for its own services at all?

I thank Deputy Coppinger for the question. The question appears to be on the tendering of Bus Éireann routes and asks me to make a statement on the matter. I will respond to the other part of the question later if the Deputy wishes.

As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for policy and overall funding relating to public transport. However, I am not involved in the day to day operations of public transport or in public service obligation, PSO, contract arrangements.

It is a statutory function of the National Transport Authority, under the Dublin Transport Authority Act, 2008, and EU Regulation 1370/2007, to determine the appropriate mix of directly awarded and competitively tendered PSO services.

In 2015, as part of the bus market opening, the NTA sought expressions of interest from public transport operators to operate bus services on certain routes in the Dublin metropolitan, Dublin commuter and Waterford areas. This resulted in approximately 10% of PSO services which were operated under direct award by Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus being competitively tendered. As the Deputy is aware, Bus Éireann won the contract for delivery of the Waterford services which are expected to commence in March 2019. Go-Ahead Ireland was announced as the winner of the other competitions, including the Dublin commuter competition for certain commuter routes on the Kildare corridor into Dublin previously operated by Bus Éireann. It is expected that Go-Ahead Ireland will commence operations on the Kildare corridor routes in quarter 2, 2019.

The competitive tendering that has recently been introduced by the NTA into the bus market is happening at the same time as significant growth in public transport services. The market opening will therefore not give rise to a reduction in employee numbers or in services by Bus Éireann or Dublin Bus as they both need drivers to operate new expanded timetables on their remaining routes. Of course, these expanded and intensified services by Bus Éireann or Dublin Bus will be subvented by the NTA, so the 10% market opening will not result in a corresponding reduction in their PSO subsidy, as might otherwise be expected.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The NTA's current direct award public service obligation, PSO, contract with Bus Éireann expires at the end of November 2019. The NTA is required to follow a statutory process underpinned by both EU and national legislation before the direct award contracts may be renewed.

As part of this process, the NTA launched a public consultation process in early October on the bus services contracts. This consultation informed the NTA's recent decision on the renewal of the contracts, including in respect of the direct award and competitive tender balance of contracts for Bus Éireann.

Regarding the direct award contracts post 2019 in respect of Bus Éireann, the NTA has announced it will directly award an equivalent service level that the company has in December 2019, amend that contract in 2021 to reduce it by up to 5% of services and provide the removed services through a separate contract following an open competitive tender process.

It will be open to Bus Éireann to tender for these services if it so wishes.

The new direct award contracts proposed by the NTA will provide a guaranteed level of PSO funding to Bus Éireann up to 2024.

As the Deputy is aware, the public transport PSO programme represents a significant expenditure of taxpayers' money. Overall, its funding has increased by some 35% in the past three years. This year €285 million in funding has been allocated towards funding our PSO services.

Let us talk about Go-Ahead, the company that, under the Minister's watch, has been allowed take over these routes. Go-Ahead starts its bus drivers on €28,000. How is one meant to buy a house in this city or any other city in this country on such a wage? The top rate of pay is €32,000. That is €14,000 less than a Bus Éireann worker could earn after a number of years of service. There are no break facilities. Obviously, the Minister thinks it is fine for a bus driver to pull in and eat a sandwich on the side of the road. In reality, drivers have been leaving the company en masse. They were not able to take over last week the routes they were meant to take over. They are working a 12-hours-a-day roster whereas 11 hours is meant to be the maximum. It just will not work. We have already seen the Ryanair model fall apart. I know the chief executive officer is a good friend of the Minister. There is a revolt by workers and employees of Ryanair against that type of model, and this will not work either.

I think Michael O'Leary would be absolutely horrified by that description. I do not think he would recognise it as being the case. I have met him a few times, but to describe him as a good friend of mine is-----

The Minister tweets about him positively.

-----just inaccurate, and that should not be allowed to stand. I have never been in his house and he has never been in mine. I think I have met him once for a cup of coffee or a light lunch in the past 25 years. I have met him on other occasions which have been businesslike and nothing else. I therefore ask the Deputy not to throw across the floor of the House the allegation that the Minister is in some way compromised by friendship. It is not true. It is not the case at all.

I will answer the Deputy's question and some of the things she has said which are just not correct. She mentioned in her opening remark the privatisation of these companies and routes. There is no privatisation. There is an ongoing tendering process, to which she very accurately referred in her initial question but to which she unfortunately did not refer subsequently. It is a fine tendering process and is not in any way meant to undermine the incumbents, namely Dublin Bus or Bus Éireann. This tendering is for the benefit of the consumers and the passengers and it also benefits the staff. What Go-Ahead has done is introduce 425 new jobs and a large investment in the Irish economy. We must welcome this, and Deputy Coppinger should also welcome it. It is in no way meant to be a privatisation of anything. No assets are changing hands. This is just operators tendering for new routes, some of which they are getting, some of which the incumbents are getting.

Bus Éireann underbid Go-Ahead by €3 million but Go-Ahead was still given the contract, so it seems to be a rigged system. The NTA does not want Bus Éireann to be able to maintain its own routes. In reality, it is not allowed compete. What is happening is a fragmenting of the network. Bus Éireann is expected to show a profit despite all the challenges of the NTA increasing licences and curtailing Expressway. The NTA guidelines are meant to be cognisant of the public service obligation, which does not seem to have been the case with Go-Ahead. At least with Bus Éireann the surplus money is reinvested into the economy; with companies like Go-Ahead, but specifically with Go-Ahead itself, 83% of the company is stock market-owned. What will happen is that the public service, the taxpayer in effect, will end up subsidising these jobs because many of the workers will have to claim the working family payment. The Minister has nobbled Dublin Bus as well. It is only allowed to make a profit of €1 million and must run its fleet on that. The NTA takes anything above that. Dublin Bus increases its passengers and generates revenue of €20 million and the NTA takes back €19 million. How is this allowing the public service in any way to compete?

The Minister may not be a friend of Mr. O'Leary - I will rephrase that - but he is certainly an admirer and has tweeted very approvingly about the activities of the Ryanair boss, just voted the worst boss in history. My concern is for workers and commuters, who will not have services when they need them.

I did not think this question was about Michael O'Leary at all.

It is about tendering of Bus Éireann routes, so let us stick with it. The Minister has a final minute. We have gone way over time on this question.

The Acting Chairman is quite correct that it was not about Mr. O'Leary, but I could not allow Deputy Coppinger's statement to be left on the record. I did not introduce the matter. To say I have tweeted admiringly about Mr. O'Leary is equally fatuous. I have tweeted admiringly about the socialist Greek Government as well.

There is no socialist government in Greece.

That is a completely different area of the political spectrum, and I am sure the Greek Government believes in many of the same things as Deputy Coppinger.

Thank God public transport is expanding, Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus are expanding and the number of passengers travelling on them is expanding. Go-Ahead is entering a market and, I hope, doing well because it is accommodating a large and growing number of passengers which it is absolutely essential to accommodate. Happily, there is room for all, both the incumbent and its competitors and its new operations, in this new environment. We should be saying "thank God" we have Go-Ahead to do this, to compete and to improve by competition the lot of the passengers, to keep fares down, to help consumers and to provide more jobs.

I say to everyone in the House that the abuse of the time slots is outrageous. It is very hard for a Chair to tolerate. It should be remembered that Deputies accept the rules of the House as set out by the Business Committee. I do not mind giving someone an extra five or ten seconds. The constant breaking of the time slots needs to stop because what colleagues are doing is absolutely ensuring that two, three or four questions will not be answered today. Deputies sit around for these questions to be answered and are then disappointed when the questions are not reached. I therefore appeal to all Deputies to adhere to the time slots. They are 30 seconds to introduce the question, two minutes for the Minister to respond, a one-minute supplementary question, a one-minute reply, a final supplementary question and a final reply. I do not want-----

Acting Chairman-----

No, I am not having any interruption or intervention. I am moving to question No. 5.

Chairman, on a point of order-----

No. Deputy Collins has 30 seconds.

It is a point of order.

I am not allowing a point of order. I call Deputy Collins to put her question.

Acting Chairman-----

No, I am not taking any point of order. I have made my point. I call Deputy Collins to put her question.

Transport Network Safety

Joan Collins

Ceist:

5. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if the immediate installation of assault screens on all Bus Éireann services will be ensured; if his initial positive response to a union (details supplied) will be followed up; and when a Garda transport division will be established. [52299/18]

In response to a letter from Dermot O'Leary of the National Bus and Rail Union, NBRU, on 26 June, the Minister stated:

I have asked my Department to write to the CEO of Iarnród Éireann...and the Chairman of the Railway Safety Advisory Council...to seek their views on the adequacy of the current arrangements for combating anti-social behaviour on our rail network.

I have also asked my Department to engage with the CEOs of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann to seek their views... Once I have received their responses, I will, in conjunction with stakeholders, including my colleague, the Minister for Justice and An Garda Síochána, review the measures in place to ensure the safety of all passengers.

What is the current position in this regard?

I thank the Deputy for her question. It is a serious and worthy one and is along the lines of what we have already heard about the necessity to protect the staff, which is essential and which I agree is not adequate in all cases.

As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for policy on and overall funding of public transport.

The safety and security of Bus Éireann staff is a matter first and foremost for Bus Éireann in conjunction with, as appropriate, An Garda Síochána.

Bus Éireann has advised that driver security screens are fitted to the entire low-floor single-deck and double-deck bus fleet.

I am advised that manufacturers currently do not supply a solution for screens on coaches and consequently screens are not fitted to this fleet type.

I have been assured that the company will continue to review this with coach manufacturers.

However, their challenge remains safety-related as a result of the significant constraints arising from the design and layout of a coach cab area, the high operating speeds of coaches and the driver's need for a clear and unimpeded view of the coach at high speeds.

Bus Éireann has further advised that the safety and welfare of employees are key priorities for it, that all assault and anti-social behaviour incidents are fully investigated and followed up with the Garda as required and that any employee involved in an incident is supported by the company through local management and the company welfare scheme. As already stated, while the vast majority of public transport passenger journeys occur without incident I am concerned to make sure that the necessary arrangements are in place in order to ensure the safety of all passengers and staff travelling and working on our public transport network.

As a result, following representations from the NBRU regarding the establishment of a dedicated police force for public transport, my Department wrote to Iarnród Éireann, Bus Éireann, Dublin Bus and the Railway Safety Advisory Council, RSAC, to seek their views on the issue of anti-social behaviour on our public transport network. All three companies emphasised their strong and close working relationships with An Garda Síochána in the context of addressing anti-social behaviour.

There have been 1,000 acts of anti-social behaviour against bus workers and drivers in the past 18 months. There have been four assaults on Bus Éireann services in the past couple of weeks. Until recently, I did not know that Bus Éireann does not record assaults unless the worker is absent for more than three days. A worker could be assaulted but it is not recorded if he or she comes back within two days. Each assault should be recorded so that there is a proper account of it.

There is a call for a dedicated Garda transport division that has the ability to arrest anybody who causes criminal damage on a bus or attacks a bus worker. That is what the bus workers are looking for and that is what the Minister should be seeking. He mentioned that the Minister for Justice and Equality had met the Garda Commissioner. What was the outcome of that meeting? The Minister for Justice and Equality would have to provide funding in respect of extra officers if there was to be a dedicated Garda transport division. Does the Minister have an answer in that regard? Is he at least willing to provide funding for certain areas initially and then extend them if necessary?

I think the Minister for Justice and Equality wrote to the Garda Commissioner. I do not think he met him; I am not sure. I do not know what the outcome of that was, but I think it was quite recent. I could find out and come back to the Deputy. I know it is a matter of some urgency.

In reply to the question about what is being done, I wrote to the RSAC. In its response it recommended the establishment of a dedicated unit of An Garda Síochána to police the rail network on occasions when the possibility of anti-social behaviour is high. Bus Éireann, in which Deputy Joan Collins is particularly interested, reported that the level of anti-social behaviour was relatively low and noted a declining trend. That does not make it acceptable for one second. However, the rate does seem to be coming down. Some of the measures seem to be having an effect. Bus Éireann confirmed once again that the incidence of assaults and anti-social behaviour is low but that safety and welfare of its staff is a key priority. Driver security screens are fitted to the entire low-floor single-deck and double-deck bus fleet.

I know they are fitted in the low-floor coaches, but the Minister made the point that other coaches are not fitted with security screens. There are safety concerns. I am sure that the health and safety committee could look at something like that. Where there is a will there is a way. If something needs to be done and can be done, it should be done. Assault screens should be fitted on all public transport to protect workers. As a stakeholder in these public bodies, it is the least the Minister can do to ensure that workers are safe.

I would appreciate it if the Minister could come back to me regarding the Garda transport division. The Minister responded to the NBRU on 26 June. Six months later we still do not have any clarity on that except for what the Minister has stated, namely, that the RSAC advised on the rail network. I would be interested to find out more about that.

I thank the Deputy. In addition to what I said about security screens being available on the low-floor single-deck and double-desk bus fleet, I note that according to Bus Éireann all assaults and incidents of anti-social behaviour are fully investigated and followed up with An Garda Síochána as required. Any employee involved in such an incident is supported by the company through local management and the company welfare scheme. Emergency support for drivers on the road is provided through their 24-hour control centres. The company has invested in extensive CCTV coverage throughout the bus fleet for the added protection of employees and customers. Bus Éireann has improved customer education with clear signage on buses regarding respect for staff as well as a customer safety video. An additional conflict management module has been included in Bus Éireann's employee training programme to help support employees in difficult situations and improved CCTV coverage has been put in place in the driver's cab area, with consideration of an additional camera over the entrance door fully covering the cab.

I do not want to make light of this problem. I agree with the Deputy that it has to be addressed. It is being addressed. It has come to the notice of the Garda Commissioner, the Minister for Justice and Equality and me. I would welcome any further suggestions.