Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Taxi Regulations

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

56. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will report on plans in the taxi industry to introduce ride-sharing; his recommendations for regulating same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6721/19]

Before Christmas, a significant number of taxi drivers contacted me regarding their concerns at plans by parts of the taxi industry to introduce a taxi ride-sharing scheme. The taxi drivers believe the scheme could cause significant difficulty, particularly in terms of passenger and driver safety, and would massively disrupt the taxi business. What knowledge does the Minister have of this proposal and what does he intend to do about it in terms of regulations and so on?

In Ireland, the carrying of passengers in a car for a payment is regulated under the Taxi Regulation Act 2013. The Act provides for the regulation of the small public service vehicle, SPSV, sector, which includes taxis, hackneys and limousine services and is commonly referred to as the taxi industry. Under the legislation, the regulation of the SPSV business is carried out by the National Transport Authority, NTA.

Ireland's regulatory regime is governed by recent modern legislation, which provides for licensing arrangements and industry standards and applies to vehicles, drivers, operators and the services provided for the travelling public. The Act requires the licensing of vehicles and drivers involved in providing SPSV services. However, it places no quantitative restriction on the number of licences that may be issued. The objectives of the regulatory framework are to protect consumers and help ensure safety.

As Deputies are probably aware, the SPSV regulatory regime makes several requirements in the interests of passengers and the public generally. Drivers must be Garda vetted and must demonstrate knowledge of industry standards and the areas in which they will work. Vehicles must meet specific safety standards and appropriate insurance is required. Services must be operated to an appropriate standard for passengers and fares must be charged within the regulated pricing system.

As I mentioned, the focus of the regulatory regime is to protect the consumer and help ensure personal safety. These are vital objectives which must continue to be central to how the SPSV industry is operated and regulated. Within that context, there is a need to evolve and be open to new technologies and innovation. In that regard, there is now widespread use of technology in the SPSV industry, and such innovations are of benefit to consumers and operators.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Over the past few years, there have been calls to change the regulatory system to allow the operation of certain taxi-type services that are not currently permitted. As the Deputy mentioned, ride sharing has been suggested as an additional means of providing transport services in rural areas.

The taxi regulation review report published by the Government in January 2012 recommended the introduction of a local area hackney licence to address transport deficits that would not otherwise be addressed in certain rural areas. Regulations permitting the issue of such licences were introduced with effect from December 2013 to enable a part-time hackney service to be provided in rural areas likely to be too small to support a full-time taxi or hackney operation and too far from adjacent centres to be serviced by taxis or hackneys therefrom. The RSA continues to offer the local area hackney licence to address transport deficits in certain rural areas. However, the number of active licences remains very low. The NTA has advised my Department that the principal deterrent to the take-up of the licences seems to be the high cost of insurance for the carriage of passengers for reward. A review of the position on local area hackneys is currently being undertaken by the NTA as part of the development of a strategy framework for the SPSV industry. It is expected that the review will be completed in 2019.

As regards the specific issue of transport connectivity in rural Ireland, the Deputy will be aware that the NTA has responsibility for providing integrated local and rural transport. This includes responsibility for the rural transport programme which now operates under the Local Link brand. The number of services has been expanded in recent years and spending on the programme has increased substantially. In recent months, the NTA has been conducting a pilot scheme to test evening and night-time services as part of the rural transport programme. The pilot scheme was recently extended and future arrangements will be informed by an evaluation of its experience.

We must remain open to new possibilities. However, the regulation of any public passenger service should continue to be determined in the context of the important safety and consumer objectives that underpin our existing legislation.

I am all for proper regulation of the industry. We should keep Uber out because users of that service do not know who their driver will be or whether the vehicle will be safe or properly regulated. However, that is not the issue I wish to raise. My question regards a proposal by Mytaxi to bring in a ride-share scheme. If there is a big queue at a taxi rank late at night and one proposes sharing a taxi with another member of the queue, that is fine. However, if these taxi app companies set up a ride-share scheme whereby three or four people who had not met would get into a taxi at different locations, problems may arise, particularly late at night. Passengers would not know with whom they will be sharing the taxi nor how much alcohol their fellow passengers may have taken. It may lead to fights over the division of fares and so on, with taxi drivers being left to manage such situations.

Does the Minister welcome the proposal being put forward by some sections of the taxi industry? I do not. I share the concerns of taxi drivers. A ride-sharing scheme should not be introduced until it has been properly examined and all stakeholders consulted on the possible dangers.

Deputy, please. You are way over time.

What is the role of the Minister in terms of preserving the livelihood of taxi drivers and passenger safety?

It is very unlike Deputy Boyd Barrett to exceed his time. I know he is very passionate about this issue.

I note the Deputy stated that Uber should be kept out of the market. I presume that was a throwaway remark because his question as tabled does not refer to Uber.

It was a throwaway remark.

On that throwaway remark, I am open to all constructive suggestions which would reduce social or rural isolation, such as the local hackney service referred to in a previous question. We will tackle that isolation. There are certain very important criteria in place for providers of such services. The potential scenario referred to by the Deputy was quite alarming. I am not prepared to entertain any enterprise which would prejudice people's safety in any way. We must have a safe, fully regulated, consumer-friendly and competitive taxi industry. The Deputy may rest assured that neither my Department nor any other body will look favourably on any proposal which threatens the safety of taxi passengers.

I am glad to hear that. I ask the Minister to look into the matter further and send out a clear message that what would be a very dramatic change with potentially very negative consequences will not be allowed and that any such proposal will be thoroughly investigated and weighed up and the subject of proper public consultation. Broadly speaking, we should not allow ride-sharing because it would devastate the livelihood of taxi drivers, very seriously prejudice the safety of passengers and could cause chaos.

I am very sympathetic to the need for additional public transport for those in rural areas. The provision of those services must be examined. However, that is a separate issue to services such as ride-sharing schemes, which could have very negative consequences and should not be allowed to go ahead. There have already been protests by taxi drivers against the possible introduction of the service. I ask the Minister to look into the matter and, bearing the regulations and passenger safety in mind, to ensure that no such scheme is introduced without permission.

I welcome the fact that the Minister is open to all suggestions to reduce rural isolation. I hope he will embrace the use of technology to improve services for the public. Services must be safe. Drivers must be vetted and people must feel safe while using public transport. The Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport is in the process of inviting all stakeholders in the area, including the taxi alliance and other groups representing taxi drivers, to appear before it. I understand the Minister has agreed to appear before the committee in that regard. When will there be a timeline for the introduction of adequate rural transport services? It is not good enough to say things will be done in 2019. When will he bring firm proposals regarding how we will address the deficiencies in rural transport to the House or the Oireachtas transport committee?

I have given the deadline of 2019 and I am not going to revise it because it is realistic.

It is ten months long.

The Deputy may be demanding an earlier one. He asked me for one and I gave it to him. It is 2019. That is where it is and-----

That is ten months.

-----I am sorry but that is where it stays. The Deputy is not going to bamboozle me into changing it.

The issue of safety is paramount. Deputy Boyd Barrett may recollect that I made a pledge about the issue of rickshaws, which is not dissimilar. Rickshaws act as quasi-taxis from time to time. They must be regulated and abide by rules that make people safe, not only the passengers but also those whom they pass in the night. No operation of that sort that does not abide by rules of safety and consumer protection will be tolerated. That is something I reiterate here. This does not in any way prejudice my commitment to helping rural areas on the way to a more amenable, accessible and workable transport system that helps those in those areas to have a better and more active social life.

Question No. 57 replied to with Written Answers.

I am aware of the number of Members tied up with committee meetings. Looking at my list, I believe Deputy Boyd Barrett has hit the jackpot because, as far as I can see, his question is next.

I will take Deputy Gino Kenny's question.

Has that been agreed? I have not been informed.

Disabilities Data

Gino Kenny

Ceist:

59. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to disability-proof policies of his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6514/19]

Ten years after we promised to do so, we passed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It is good to have an aspiration although, noticeably, we ducked out of the proper option on monitoring. To what extent will the Minister ensure this is made a reality in terms of access to public transport for the disabled and the disability-proofing of public transport?

I will first address the public transport area. My Department's high-level policy goal for accessible public transport, based on the principles of universal access to public transport, is being implemented through my Department's policies and funding. This includes new public transport facilities and infrastructure, retrofitting of older infrastructure, and accelerated investment in public transport. In 2018, I appointed to the boards of the National Transport Authority, Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann, Irish Rail and Córas Iompair Éireann directors with direct personal experience of disability.

In the tourism sector, my Department is committed to supporting action 11 of the tourism action plan for the period 2019 to 2021, regarding accessible tourism. In the sports sector, my Department is committed to supporting the national sports policy for the period 2018 to 2021, which contains four specific actions aimed at addressing the disability participation gradients.

My Department continues to work to ensure it meets the 6% target for the employment of people with disabilities over a phased period to 2024 in accordance with the national disability inclusion strategy. The public sector duty, as outlined in section 42 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014, is a legal obligation on all public bodies, including all central government Departments, to promote equality, prevent discrimination and protect the human rights of their employees and everyone affected by their functions and services.

To meet its public sector duty, my Department is preparing to carry out shortly an assessment to identify human rights and equality issues, including disability issues, that are relevant to its functions. The assessment will cover my Department's functions as a policy maker, employer and service provider. The assessment will also identify my Department's policies and practices that are in place or those it will plan to put in place to address these issues.

Very simply, if a wheelchair user is trying to get on the DART, he or she will face extreme difficulty in many cases. He or she must give advance notice. At some stations, one simply cannot get on. One certainly has to give very significant advance notice. This unfortunate, unequal and discriminatory situation suffered by people with disabilities has been exacerbated by the removal of staff from many DART stations. That is just one example. The staff would often be the individuals who could facilitate access for people who just came up to a DART station to try to access the service. If the staff are not available, access is impeded. That is just one example.

It is all very well talking about committees, consultation and aspirational commitments under the UN convention but if they do not translate into access to public transport such as the DART for people with wheelchairs and others with a disability, it means very little.

We have made a lot of progress and I absolutely acknowledge we still have plenty to do. This applies not only to the areas to which the Deputy referred but also to others. Since 2010, all new taxi or hackney licences require wheelchair-accessible vehicles. In 2018, the appointment by me to the boards of the National Transport Authority and Dublin Bus of people with direct experience of disability was a major move in the right direction. I hope the Deputy acknowledges that we now have, on every public transport board, directors who are conscious of disability issues and who I hope are at every meeting disability-proofing what is happening in the companies. Their representation surely gives the people who are suffering from disabilities reassurance that everything is being done to look after their needs in a practical way.

On one level, that is an improvement. I acknowledge improvements where they exist, just as I acknowledge the belated but nonetheless welcome signing of the UN convention. This is undermined, however, when decisions are made to reduce staff numbers or remove staff at DART stations or other areas. Often, the real assistance needed to ensure access is from a human being working in public transport and who is in place to provide support and assistance to people with disabilities. What is happening neutralises or subverts the progress the Minister might be making through consultation, albeit welcome, with people with disabilities. He needs to address that.

Many of the DART stations do not have lifts or have a lift on only one side of the track, as is the case in Dalkey DART station. There are real problems getting on if one is on the far side of the tracks. These matters need to be addressed if we are to ensure real equality, to which we are now committed under the UN convention.

The Deputy referred to lifts. I have a few statistics on this that might help him. Across the rail network, of 144 stations an average of 12 lifts were out of service per week in 2018. The reasons were vandalism, parts being required or technical call-outs. Vandalism accounted for lifts being out of service on over 44 occasions in 2018. Some issues were rectified within an hour while others took up to a month if specialist parts were required to be ordered. Sometimes lifts simply cannot be repaired rapidly, and this obviously has a detrimental and very regrettable effect on people with a disability because it makes it much harder for them to gain access to public transport. I am determined to tackle this in an energetic way also.

That is why staff are needed in the train stations.

Approximately 86% of Bus Éireann coaches are now wheelchair-accessible by lift, and this proportion will increase as the coach fleet is replaced.

Some people were tied up in committees and, with the permission of the House, I am going to go back to Deputy Thomas Byrne's question and then I will proceed to those in the names of Deputies Wallace, Clare Daly and Curran. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Road Network

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

58. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans for investment in primary routes in County Meath. [6686/19]

I will not delay. I was seconds late to the Chamber. I will hear the Minister's reply.

This question is about plans for investment in primary routes in County Meath. First, I wish to explain that, as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding in respect of the national roads programme. However, under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015, the planning, operation and development of individual road projects is a matter for the relevant road authority - that is, local authorities in whose functional areas road developments are situated - in the context of local and regional roads or Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned, regarding national roads.

Consequently, it is an operational matter for a road authority and TII to give an account of how a project is progressing within their functional areas of responsibility. However, following consultation, I can provide the following information and update to the Deputy on investment in primary routes in County Meath.

The N2 Rath to Kilmoon roundabout scheme is included in Project Ireland 2040. The scheme is being progressed through pre-appraisal and early planning. This project, which relates to a section of road approximately 6 km long, will address the existing operational and safety problems on this part of the N2. The expected benefits of the scheme will be to improve efficiency of traffic using the N2 corridor, improve safety and improve connectivity between Dublin and the north west.

In 2018, TII provided an allocation of €25,000 to Meath County Council to carry out the pre-appraisal plan for Rath to Kilmoon. A further allocation of €250,000 has been provided by TII in 2019 to allow the scheme to progress through planning and design. TII has issued approval to Meath County Council to progress the procurement of technical advisers to commence the design of the scheme. The procurement of technical advisers will take approximately three to four months.

The traffic problems at Curragha are exacerbated by traffic which is trying to avoid the delays at Primatestown and also traffic heading to Tayto Park. The Ashbourne municipal district engineer has been installing and maintaining signage at the junction as well as hedge cutting. The transportation section of Meath County Council has also prepared a preliminary design to calm traffic and improve definition at the junction and safety on the approaches, including the R155 as it passes the residential properties and school through the village of Curragha itself. My Department has made €200,000 available to the council to progress this work in 2019 .

The Minister will have an opportunity to come back in.

I might come back to it in a second.

What about the Slane bypass?

I will address the matter of Slane bypass.

I will clarify the difficulty I have. On the issue of the Rath to Kilmoon scheme, the difficulty I have is that my constituents are stuck in traffic every day. They get on to us to ask what is happening and we get very little information. I would like to know specifically, in the context of projects such as this which are listed for pre-appraisal under Project Ireland 2040, what that means. My reading of Project Ireland 2040 is that not all of the projects listed will get approval. Is that the case? We are spending money on consultants now and, at some point, a list of about half of them will be picked for construction. That is what a plain reading of that document suggests. There are other projects in my constituency that are also on that list, particularly the project at Clonee.

This is a major issue. The Minister is aware of that because he has met residents of the area, councillors and me in respect of it. People are at breaking point over the traffic there and it needs much more action. Farther up the road is the Slane bypass and it is almost exactly seven years to the day since it was refused planning permission and we still are nowhere near another planning application being made. Farther along again is the A5. I wonder if today's announcement will have any impact on projects on the N2 in County Meath.

I will address the N2 Slane bypass and come back to the Deputy's question in a moment.

In December 2009, a proposal for an N2 bypass of Slane was submitted to An Bord Pleanála. In March 2012, An Bord Pleanála refused planning consent citing its concern that, having regard to the importance and sensitivity of the location, a bypass of the type proposed could only be considered where it had been demonstrated that no appropriate alternative was available. Following additional studies, Meath County Council concluded that traffic management options were not viable alternatives to a bypass and an N2 bypass for Slane village was still required. Technical advisers were procured in February 2017 to re-examine the need for a bypass from first principles and bring the scheme through to make a new application to An Bord Pleanála for statutory consent.

The scheme is contained both in the NTA's transport strategy for the greater Dublin area and Project Ireland 2040. An N2 bypass of Slane is required to alleviate traffic congestion in the village and to reduce the potential for serious vehicular accidents due to the steep approaches to the very narrow Slane bridge and the high commercial vehicle content in the traffic flow.

The Minister will have a final minute.

I would like to yield my time to the Minister because I want to get answers to the questions I have already asked.

My understanding is that pre-appraisal is the first stage and it certainly does not mean that final approval is guaranteed.

Final approval is not guaranteed.

The Rath to Kilmoon scheme is not guaranteed.

My understanding is that it is not guaranteed, despite the pre-appraisal.

The expected benefits of the Slane bypass are that it will provide a bypass of Slane village, provide an enhanced living environment within the historic village, reduce journey times and traffic delays in the vicinity of Slane and enhance access between Dublin and the north west region. This scheme is currently at route selection stage. The route selection report is being finalised and is due for publication in 2019. A pre-application consultation process is under way with An Bord Pleanála. It is anticipated that the scheme will be published in late 2020. Subject to receiving planning approval the scheme may then progress to construction. The estimated construction timetable is three years with an anticipated completion date of 2024.

Ports Facilities

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

60. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the actions he has taken to address the ownership issue at Rosslare Europort; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6716/19]

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

77. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on the ten-year strategic plan for Rosslare Europort of Irish Rail; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6715/19]

For more than three years now - since prior to the Brexit referendum - I have argued that this Government and that which preceded it needed to invest and to address the issues faced at Rosslare Europort, not least the problem that it is run by a rail company and is partly owned by the British. Every time I question the ownership of the port I am given the same line about the complicated legislative basis of the port and that the Minister's Department has received detailed advice from the Attorney General and that advice identified a number of legal issues which remain under consideration by the Department. Has there been any progress in addressing the ownership issue of Rosslare Europort?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 60 and 77 together.

Rosslare Europort is unique among the State-owned ports, as it is not a commercial company operating under the Harbours Acts but is instead operated on a commercial basis as a division of Iarnród Éireann. Technically, the port forms part of the Fishguard and Rosslare Railways and Harbours Company, which is a 19th century joint-venture company, consisting today of Iarnród Éireann on the Irish side and Stena Line on the Welsh side.

The status of the port, and whether its current status potentially inhibits its development, was considered in a strategic review commissioned by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and carried out by Indecon Economic Consultants. Its report concluded that the creation of an independent port authority would be extremely difficult, given the port's complex legal structure. Instead, it was recommended that the port remain in public ownership and that the possibilities for increased private sector involvement be investigated.

In order to assist Iarnród Éireann's overall consideration of how best to move forward, the company then engaged consultants to assess market interest. The assessment was largely positive in terms of the potential for increased private sector investment in the port. However, it did identify possible implementation issues due to the complicated legislative basis of the port.

Following that assessment, the Department sought and received detailed advice from the Office of the Attorney General on the matter. That advice identified a number of legal issues with any such proposal and those issues remain under consideration by the Department.

I am satisfied that Rosslare Europort, as a division of Iarnród Éireann, is effectively managing operations at the port and looking at the potential of the port to develop further and take advantage of any new opportunities. The port is targeting growth and new business opportunities and recently received the approval of the Iarnród Éireann board for a strategic plan to grow the port's business. This includes investment plans for up to €25 million in customer facilities and port infrastructure, port assets and new technology.

The port is engaging with several potential new shipping customers to supplement existing operators and offer greater choice to freight and passenger business. Iarnród Éireann and Rosslare Europort briefed my Department late last year on the company's plans for strategic development of the port over the coming years.

Brexit will have implications for several key ports and airports. Rosslare continues to work closely with my Department and a range of other relevant Departments and Government offices in preparing for the additional border controls that will arise from Brexit. In this context, my Department has met Rosslare Europort management on a number of occasions during the past year, most recently last month, about the infrastructural requirements of the port in connection with Brexit. My Department has also met ferry and shipping companies regarding their plans for dealing with the challenges of Brexit.

On 3 May last, the Minister told the House that the structure of the port’s ownership was somewhat unorthodox and would certainly need to come under more immediate scrutiny. That does not seem to have really happened, however. Several weeks ago, the Minister of State in the Department of Defence, Deputy Kehoe, brought a delegation to Brussels to meet the European Commissioner for Transport to stress the need for investment in Rosslare. Will the Minister explain why the Department of Defence has become involved?

Why has it taken until now, on the eve of Brexit, for someone to wake up and state that something needs to be done about Rosslare, the closest port in the State to mainland Europe? I fail to understand why Rosslare was not developed into a strategic harbour a long time ago. Central Statistics Office, CSO, port traffic figures from 2016 show that Rosslare had arrival gross tonnage of 32,000 tonnes, Cork, 18,000, and Shannon, 10,000. Are Cork and Shannon getting more investment than Rosslare? In terms of footfall, Rosslare had 268,000 passengers in 2016 compared with Dublin, which had just under 500,000 passengers, yet it is left behind. Wexford is a deprived county and could be given a boost through investment in Rosslare Europort.

Rosslare Europort is a commercial operation and operated as a division of Iarnród Éireann. As such, any State investment would not be legal under EU regulations on state aid. However, Rosslare Europort is a division of Iarnród Éireann which is managing operations at the port and looking at its potential to develop it further. The 2017 Iarnród Éireann annual report showed operating revenue at the port of €10.6 million and subsidies to the port of approximately €2.5 million per annum. Iarnród Éireann recently completed a detailed report on the development potential of Rosslare. The port is targeting growth and new business opportunities. Recently, it received the approval of the Iarnród Éireann board for a strategic plan to grow the port’s business. This includes investment plans of up to €25 million in customs facilities and port infrastructure, port assets and new technology.

I know there is €25 million going into Rosslare. However, there are plans for the Government to invest €587 million in infrastructure for Dublin, Cork and Shannon ports. Compared with that, €25 million is a drop in the ocean. Dublin Port Company plans to invest €1 billion over the next ten years. In 2018 alone, €132 million was invested in Dublin Port. It does not appear that the Government regards developing Rosslare as a priority.

A control compound will be required at the port for Brexit purposes, which will probably come from the €25 million allocation. It will not be built, however, for three years, while Brexit is only months away. Why was this decision delayed for so long? Is there any genuine appetite on the Government’s part to bring Rosslare up to a certain point? Irish Ferries wants to pull out of Rosslare and just use Dublin Port. This will add to traffic congestion around Dublin Port and the M50, which is turning into a parking lot.

Will the Deputy conclude? Some of his colleagues will lose out on their questions.

Will the Minister agree that it would be better long-term planning to invest more in Rosslare?

It would be unlawful under EU regulations on state aid for the State to directly invest in Rosslare Port. Iarnród Éireann will put in €25 million and has developed investment plans for customs facilities and port infrastructure. That is a fair vote of confidence in the future of Rosslare. Up to €1.8 million will be invested from profits every year for the next five years on general renewals and maintenance. Up to €12.5 million will be invested in the extension on berths 3 and 4, from 190 m to 220 m, with a double-link span to cater for future longer ships and two-tier vessels. Up to €1.5 million will be invested in IT and creating a smart and automated port to include vehicle recognition systems, a trailer tracking system, compound management, check-in and check-out systems. The port is currently an entirely manual operation in need of IT modernisation. Up to €3.5 million will be invested in port configuration for future requirements. The latter is Iarnród Éireann stating that the port is worthy of investment. It is not running down the port but expanding it. If the necessity and demand is there, it will expand further.

I want to get to the following questions from Deputies Clare Daly, Curran and Durkan but only if all Deputies co-operate with the time slots.

Airport Security

Clare Daly

Ceist:

61. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 482 and 484 of 29 January 2019, if a response will issue on the treatment of members of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces as being exempt from airport security compliance on the basis that they receive once-off full background checks. [6350/19]

Clare Daly

Ceist:

66. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the consideration he has given to reinstating the Airport Police and customs on the security compliance list with the completion of full background checks; if he has been contacted by the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, seeking full background checks for its officers in the Airport Police Service from An Garda Síochána; if an additional request of having 10% of all officers receive full background checks annually has been reviewed; if this offer has been addressed or accepted by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6351/19]

There is utter chaos in Dublin Airport as a result of the Department working at the behest of the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, to change the working arrangements of Airport Police and customs officers who, since the foundation of the State, have been exempt from security compliance conditions. They are now forced to go through normal airport security which is having a significant impact on their ability to do their job. Their health and safety, along with their welfare at work, is also affected. Exemptions are given to Army and Garda members on the basis of one-off security checks. Why can this not be given to those at the coalface, namely, the Airport Police and customs staff?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 61 and 66 together.

Aviation security is a priority area at national and EU level which is under constant review and scrutiny in response to new intelligence on threats and risks. Ireland is obliged to play its part in the international effort to make flying as secure and safe as possible. If we aspire to be a highly connected nation, it is essential that our international airports are up to international best standards in security terms.

A number of reviews and audits of security practices and procedures at the State airports pointed to the need to introduce improvements in staff screening arrangements. For example, in 2017 the Department invited the European Civil Aviation Conference to review security at Dublin Airport. Several recommendations were made, including relating to improving security screening and checks for so-called insider threats. The new enhancements were adopted by the National Civil Aviation Security Committee, NCASC, on the basis of a risk assessment by the IAA, which has responsibility for overseeing compliance with aviation security requirements.

On the matter of how and why specific decisions have been taken in respect of certain categories of people working at our airports, these details are security related and, as such, are highly confidential. I cannot be drawn on these details and I am sure the Deputy will understand that. However, these decisions are informed by international best practices and risk assessment. No organisation is exempt from compliance with the regulations governing aviation security.

New provisions are on the way at European level which will introduce additional aspects to the background checks carried out in civil aviation, including the use of security intelligence. When these new EU measures come into effect, they will become part of the overall suite of security measures now applied at Irish airports, including the recently introduced enhanced screening measures, with the objective of improving security practices and security culture at our airports.

There has been a high level of engagement on the implementation of the new security enhancements introduced by my Department. While there is always an element of adjustment and inconvenience to individuals, these new measures are in the broader public and national interest. As threats and risk to civil aviation change over time, so too must the security response. This requires those people charged with providing security to be flexible and innovative. I have no intention, nor any desire, to interfere in softening any security measure that brings aviation security to a higher standard.

I think the Minister will be revisiting this topic in the future. All of us are in favour of enhanced security; it is under constant review. This proposal did not come from any audit or oversight at Dublin Airport. In fact, the constant improvements the Minister referred to have always excluded airport police and customs officials from it because contrary to his statement they are not members of staff; they are the State airport operator's primary law enforcers. In doing their job and going between airside and landside they are being asked to divest themselves of all their protective clothing gear, stab vests, handcuffs, limb restraints and first-aid kits at a normal X-ray machine multiple times a day. It is utterly chaotic and they cannot do their work properly.

A full background check is acceptable for members of An Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces who continue to be exempt from the security clearance. Why have the airport police and customs officers not been given that choice?

What is the response? Has the DAA contacted the Minister to offer a percentage of staff on an annual basis for this type of screening? It is a bit ironic that the airport police get reviewed every three years for security check and yet gardaí and Defence Forces members are walking through on a one-off security check. It is utter nonsense to hide behind the guise of security.

If we want to include other people, I appeal to the Minister and Deputies to keep the answers as short as possible.

The Deputy seems to be under the impression that airport police and Revenue officials are being treated differently from members of the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces - that they are being excluded from the security clearance that it is available. I reassure her that this is not the case. Airport police and Revenue officials are fully background checked in accordance with EU regulations. The basis of this decision is that of a risk assessment by the Irish Aviation Authority on the screening exemptions held by categories of persons in Ireland.

The details of the risk assessment cannot be discussed due to its highly sensitive nature. The process is extremely robust and has been endorsed by the National Civil Aviation Security Committee of which the Revenue Commissioners and the DAA are members.

Has there ever been a complaint about the security risk of any airport police or customs officer? The Minister is missing the point. Members of the Garda and Defence Forces do not need to strip off and divest themselves of all their work clothing in order to do their job when they go through the security and X-ray machines, which the airport police and customs staff have to do. It is making their job incredibly difficult. They were always security-compliance exempt because they are under that law enforcement category.

If a full background check is sufficient to exclude gardaí and members of the Defence Forces from having to do that, why not the airport police, customs officials and immigration officers who quite often in a time-sensitive way have to move airside and back to the other side of the airport? The DAA - Dublin Airport and Cork Airport - has passed all the security audits that have been done. The findings of one of those are due to be released later this month. From where is the threat coming? It does not add up. Can we not have a level playing field for all?

I am afraid I am obliged and inclined to accept the advice of the IAA and the NCASC on matters of security. That is the position I must take. Rather than taking the Deputy's advice, I must take theirs.

Dublin Bus Fleet

John Curran

Ceist:

62. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the progress being made to replace diesel buses in Dublin with alternative low-emission vehicles; the type of buses that will replace diesel buses; the number of buses that will be replaced with non-diesel buses each year; the timeframe to replace all buses in Dublin with non-diesel buses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6431/19]

What progress is being made to replace diesel buses in Dublin with alternative low-emission vehicles? I ask the Minister to indicate the types of buses that will replace diesel buses and the annual programme of replacement.

The Deputy is aware that Project Ireland 2040 commits to ending the purchase of diesel-only buses from July 2019 for all our urban bus fleets. This is an important commitment and one which we all are looking forward to commencing as part of this year’s PSO bus purchase programme by the NTA.

Of course we all know that this move alone it is not enough and that we need a fundamental shift away from the private car to sustainable transport options if we are really going to tackle the transport dimension of our climate change challenge.

That is where the significantly improved funding secured will have an important role to play through: increasing PSO bus and rail services; expanding PSO bus and rail fleets; and significantly improving our cycling infrastructure across the major cities and beyond. As the numbers of passengers using our PSO bus services increase, so too will the number of cleaner and greener buses.

To support the change, a comprehensive series of low-emission bus trials is under way in Dublin and Cork, funded through my Department’s green public transport fund and with support from multiple agencies, including the National Transport Authority, Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann. It is expected that the trials will conclude in April 2019. A final report will be produced which will further inform the best lower-emission option, or options, for our PSO services in the greater Dublin area and in the regional cities in the years ahead. In addition to this, a number of double-deck diesel-electric hybrid buses will shortly be delivered to Dublin Bus for a trial which will allow for a comparison of various manufacturers' offerings.

Complementing those trials, the NTA will soon commence a tender process for the purchase of diesel-electric hybrid buses as part of next year’s bus purchase programme. This new contract will be in place during the second half of this year but the exact date of delivery of the new hybrid vehicles will only be confirmed subsequent to the appointment of the successful tenderer.

I thank the Minister for his reply. He indicated that trials are ongoing. My understanding is that they should have started sooner. He concluded by saying that a contract will be awarded later this year. Will that contract be awarded on foot of the trials being completed analysed and reviewed? I understand 150 buses are on order and will be in situ before July. The Minister has made the commitment that from July all the buses will be low-emission vehicles. I ask the Minister to confirm that the 150 on order at the moment are diesel buses. Will they be in use for the next decade or longer?

The Minister has indicated that they might be all electric or hybrid. The key point is that we are coming to this late in the day. For quite a period, we have been listening to talk of trials and putting them on the road. Those trials are only taking place now. Why are we only at this stage with trials?

I thought the Deputy would take exactly the opposite view. I thought he would find it really welcome that bus trials are ongoing and that we are moving to the era of diesel-electric vehicles. The NTA is beginning a tender process for the purchase of diesel-electric hybrid buses. I thought the Deputy would welcome this.

Double-deck buses have an optimal life of about 12 years and the NTA’s current fleet strategy envisages a continual fleet replacement programme of about one twelfth of the fleet each year, which equates to approximately 95 buses being replaced each year out of a total current complement of 1,136 vehicles. Development of an overall medium-term and long-term policy will be informed by the conclusion of the work I have referred to already. However, July's deadline is an important one and very welcome.

I welcome the move to low-emission vehicles. However, the Minister has set a deadline of July, but the NTA has fast-tracked and is currently purchasing 150 diesel buses for 2019. Had the trials been conducted earlier, the fleet of buses we are buying today and which will be in use for the next decade might be something different. I am very appreciative and supportive of the move, not just to meet our carbon-emission targets, but also from the point of view of air quality in Dublin. I am very impressed by the idea of moving to low-emission vehicles, but the Minister has missed this year's deadline. He has set a deadline and will not be delivering low-emission vehicles in 2019 because 150 diesel buses are on order and will come in.

We are sticking to the timetable we set out, which is that we will have the last diesel-only buses this year. That itself is a target we have met.

I will allow Deputy Durkan's question to be answered as he has been waiting patiently. I ask that the Deputy forgo his 30 second introduction and that he asks only one follow-up question.

Rail Services

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

63. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the extent of proposed augmentation and investment in rail services over the next five years, with particular reference to the extent that services can be tailored to meet the ongoing travel requirements of commuters, such as identifying the way in which rail services in general can meet the demands of medium to middle distance commuters from towns and villages outside the greater Dublin area, thereby alleviating road traffic congestion and reducing travel times; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6718/19]

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

660. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans for investment in rail services over the next five years, including extensions to services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7091/19]

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

663. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the extent to which he plans to meet or exceed expectations in relation to the extension of commuter and intercity rail services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7094/19]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 63, 660 and 663 together.

Project Ireland 2040 states that the priority funding objective in relation to mainline rail is the maintenance and renewal of the existing network so that it continues to provide a safe and reliable infrastructure that enables the provision of quality rail services for passengers across the country. This means ensuring steady state levels of investment in our rail infrastructure each year for the foreseeable future and requires a significant and recurring capital investment of around €200 million from the taxpayer every year. I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the funding I have secured under Project Ireland 2040 means that we are in a position to provide this steady state level of funding. This is significant and very welcome progress.

In addition to this significant increase in funding to support the infrastructure, we have also been increasing the funding available to support expanded services across the country through the public service obligation, PSO, subsidy. That subsidy amounts to around €140 million each year and is paid in accordance with the public services contract that Iarnród Éireann has entered into with the NTA. We have improved the funding framework which, in turn, has allowed the NTA and Iarnród Éireann to deliver an improved passenger experience. Improvements to date include the introduction of ten minute DART services, peak-time DART services operated by six or eight car train sets only, additional off-peak capacity on the Kildare, Maynooth and Northern line services, increased usage of the Phoenix Park tunnel for Kildare line services, improved journey times on a number of key intercity routes and the roll-out of the city centre re-signalling project, which will improve train movements, thereby providing improved passenger capacity across the network. These are all immediate measures but there are other medium-term and longer-term measures required and key to these is the provision of additional rail fleet. DART expansion will transform the rail fleet in the greater Dublin area in the coming years but prior to that, the NTA and Iarnród Éireann are exploring ways to secure additional fleet. The NTA has recently advertised for second-hand rail fleet, either through lease or purchase. If this process proves successful, it could provide a quick win boost to rail capacity on key commuter routes. In addition, the NTA and Iarnród Éireann are also exploring options to place an order for additional intermediate carriages for the existing rail fleet which would be of benefit to the middle-distance commuters to whom the Deputy refers in his question.

In addition to all the aforementioned, Project Ireland 2040 also provides for the construction of a new national train control centre which will greatly improve the overall management of train services across the network. I hope the Deputy will acknowledge that there are a number of short-term, medium-term and longer-term measures under way which are designed to deal with the very welcome increase in the number of passengers availing of our rail network.

I understand it was agreed that Deputy Durkan would have only one supplementary question.

Yes. I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. I ask that every effort is made to invest in our rail infrastructure to enable the greatest number of commuters to be catered for on a daily basis, particularly those in towns and villages outside the greater Dublin area. Enhanced services in both directions should result in the alleviation of road congestion.

That is our target and the basic aim of the commitments we have made for the expansion of both Luas and DART services. The increased use of the Phoenix Park tunnel for Kildare line services must be dear to Deputy Durkan's heart and we will certainly pursue that further in the years to come. We will try to meet the requirement to reduce congestion, to which many Deputies have referred this afternoon. We want to get people out of their cars and onto public transport, including the Luas, DART and mainline trains.

Written answers are published on the Oireachtas website.