Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Ambulance Service Provision

A serious situation has been brought to my attention by paramedics and our local radio station, LMFM, today relating to the north-east ambulance service, which has resulted in a serious deficit in the service available and an inability to respond to calls due to a lack of staff and a lack of vehicles being available. Last night, within the nine stations in the north east a total of 22 staff should have been rostered for duty. Unfortunately, there were only 12 and in most cases they were rostered on a single person basis. Stations affected last night included those in Drogheda, Ardee, Virginia, Monaghan, Castleblayney and Dundalk. Basically, this meant that in Castleblayney, where there should have been two staff on an ambulance, there was only one rostered on duty. One staff member cannot man or take out an ambulance except to act as first responder in the event of a cardiac arrest.

This problem began approximately eight months ago, when management informed the staff in Monaghan and Castleblayney stations that new rosters were to be introduced without delay bringing six new staff in total to the region. Needless to say, this was welcomed by all staff and a roster was worked on to incorporate the new staff. Around November of last year, management then said they had never agreed to six new staff and instead appointed two to Monaghan and two to Castleblayney. New rosters were eventually agreed and put into place with management insisting that they were to become operational on certain dates. I believe those dates were to be in January for Monaghan and from last Monday for Castleblayney. The rosters have become operational but no new staff have been provided to populate these rosters. It has been described to me as like putting an amount of orange cordial into a larger amount of water. It might look all right but it does not taste the same. The service now has the same staff attempting to fill a bigger roster. They were already short staffed beforehand so this has added greatly to this serious problem.

Ongoing staff shortages are due to a combination of sick leave, annual leave and the simple fact that there are not enough staff. In addition to these problems, this week paramedic staff were also on electronic patient care report training. The staff had to be released to attend the training. The training is to facilitate the move from paper to electronic care reports for patients. Again, this is being completed to a management deadline with little or no consideration for the impact on already depleted services.

The lack of an ambulance in Castleblayney is problematic. The new roster came with the understanding by staff that an ambulance would be provided to complete the roster. Staff were recently told that this ambulance is now not available and that they should use the ambulances they have. That is all well and good except that on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday there is a 7 a.m. crew and a 10 a.m. crew for 12-hour shifts. If both these crews are out on late calls at 7 p.m., then there would be no ambulance available to deploy even if there were staff on duty. The practice has been that when a problem occurs with rostering, a text is sent out looking for staff to cover the shift. This is a regular occurrence. The core rostering system does not work and the failure by those in charge to engage with staff is adding to the problem.

I welcome the opportunity to address, on behalf of the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, the matter of the ambulance service in the north east. The Minister, Deputy Harris, is pleased to inform the House that six additional staff have been approved to be deployed to the Monaghan and Castleblayney ambulance stations. The additional staff are expected to be in place in the coming weeks and will provide an additional emergency ambulance at both stations during weekdays.

The Deputy referred to access to vehicles. Significant capital funding has been allocated to the HSE National Ambulance Service annually to support the vehicle replacement policy. The National Ambulance Service has undertaken a number of measures to address the issue of ambulance service provision in the north east. There has been significant investment in manpower, fleet and technology in recent years. An additional 25 patient and clinical care staff were assigned to the north Leinster region during 2018. This region covers the counties referred to by the Deputy. The Minister, Deputy Harris, acknowledges that in the Border counties the National Ambulance Service works closely with the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service to provide a more responsive service for the region.

The capital review published in 2016 identified particular difficulties in serving rural areas, such as the north east. The capital review indicated that the only way to improve first response times in rural areas in particular is through voluntary community first responder schemes. The National Ambulance Service continues to work with local CFR groups throughout the region to enhance services, with 29 CFR groups operating in the counties of Louth, Monaghan, Cavan and Meath.

The National Ambulance Service has undergone a significant process of modernisation in recent years and several important service innovations and developments have taken place. The national emergency operations centre has been established. Emergency calls are received and emergency resources are dispatched from the centre. The National Ambulance Service now has full visibility of all available paramedic resources and vehicles in real time, ensuring that the closest available resource is dispatched to an emergency. In addition, the National Ambulance Service has developed the intermediate care service to provide lower acuity hospital transfers, thus freeing up emergency ambulances for the more urgent calls. A permanent emergency aeromedical support service has been established to provide a more timely response to persons in rural areas. Other recent developments include the development of alternative pathways to care. The hear-and-treat clinical hub went live in the national emergency operations centre in March last year. This service diverts some lower acuity patients away from busy emergency departments, freeing up some emergency capacity. The anticipation is that such initiatives will help to improve the availability of ambulance resources in the country, including in the north east.

In recent years, year-on-year additional investment has been directed towards the National Ambulance Service. This year the National Ambulance Service budget has increased to an unprecedented €168.6 million. This will support the National Ambulance Service in continuing to deliver a high-quality service in the region.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply. I welcome the fact that she has admitted there is an issue. While some of the remarks of the Minister of State are at variance with the situation, I welcome the fact that there is commitment to implement the full complement of six staff as per her statement and the fact that additional ambulance vehicles will be made available. I will be holding the Minister of State and the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, to account in this regard. Having said that, rural Ireland and regional health services are not the same as in Dublin city, where there are up to six emergency departments. Down through the years the Department of Health, in its wisdom, reduced the number of emergency departments. In the north east we basically have an emergency department in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda and Cavan General Hospital.

We introduced minor treatment units in Louth County Hospital in Dundalk and in Monaghan Hospital. To leave people who have concerns and are vulnerable in rural isolation - it is perhaps not as acute in the north east as it is in other areas, although it is when compared with the facilities available in the Dublin region - is very unfair. We need to have enough emergency medical vehicles, ambulances, paramedics and, indeed, advanced paramedics available.

I draw the attention of the Minister of State to the issue of recruitment of ambulance staff, which is not like the recruitment of members of An Garda Síochána, but unfortunately it is being treated in the same way. It is a national appointment. A simple solution would be not having ambulance personnel travelling from places as far away as Donegal to work in Davitt Road in Dublin, for example. Staff should be deployed in their localities. The recruitment system for paramedics should not be national. There could be a national application system, but people should be appointed locally and the rosters would work much better.

I look forward to further communication with the Minister of State on this issue and on the concerns not only about the staffing of the ambulance service but the concerns of the people I represent who are vulnerable when it comes to the ambulance service as in the case last night where ambulances were not available and the roster was not sufficient to cover the region.

On behalf of the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, I assure the House that the National Ambulance Service is focused on improving the ambulance service in the north-east region and throughout the country. The improvement of service is being implemented through the multi-annual reform programme and through the National Ambulance Service reform plan. New developments are being processed, manpower has been increased, we have improved the fleet and we are availing of new innovative technology. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, has also been assured by the National Ambulance Service that additional staff will be deployed to the Monaghan and Castleblayney ambulance stations shortly, which will further improve the capacity in the areas.

I have taken a note of the concerns the Deputy has raised and I will ensure they are passed on to the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris.

Hospital Equipment

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this matter. I contacted the Minister's office to clarify that it is about an MRI scanner as opposed to a CT scanner. I trust the Minister of State received that clarification.

This is an essential piece of infrastructure for the midland region. Currently, an adult patient in the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar, has to be referred to the Midland Regional Hospital, Tullamore, while a paediatric patient has to be referred to Dublin. Given the fact that Mullingar is a paediatric hospital for the midlands, this is simply unacceptable as it is causing seriously long delays for our patients.

I will give the Minister of State a brief history of this issue. A number of years ago the HSE promised the community of Mullingar that if it paid for the scanner the HSE would stump up and build and staff the unit with the specialist staff required. I want to acknowledge the Friends of Regional Hospital Mullingar, the group which was established, and I thank the many fundraisers, both small and big. We had a fundraiser in memory of the late Johnny Murphy, which raised €205,000, we had cake sales, 5K road races,; families climbed Croagh Patrick and schools had pyjama days and we had crazy hair days. As a result of this array of fundraising efforts, the target has now been met and the MRI scanner funding is now in place to purchase this scanner.

The Department, which I acknowledged, has approved bringing the building to design and planning stage and the HSE officials have over the last number of months been engaging with the planning authority to try to address any of the obstacles that may be in the way when an official planning application is made. I understand now that many of those obstacles have been addressed, many of the challenges have been ironed out and it is anticipated that a formal planning application will be made by the HSE to Westmeath County Council in a matter of weeks.

The reason I raise this issue today is to seek assurances that once this planning application is approved - it is anticipated that this will happen in a matter of months - there will be no delay in advancing resources to bring this project to the next and final stages, which is the tender and construction stages. This is an essential piece of infrastructure for early diagnosis, for investigation of many conditions, including stroke and cardiology and for people attending for surgery and the casualty units. It is also critical as the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar, is the main maternity hospital for the midlands. Anybody with a knowledge of maternity care will know that best practice for babies born prematurely is to ensure they have an MRI scan.

We have come a long way, thanks to the Trojan efforts of the Friends of Regional Hospital Mullingar committee but also thanks to the huge voluntary efforts of so many people who have arranged so many fundraisers. The funding is in place for the MRI scanner. We are ready to lodge a planning application to Westmeath County Council in a matter of weeks and we should have a planning decision within a matter of months. What I want today are assurances that there will be no delay in advancing the necessary resources to bring this to the tender and construction stages.

On behalf of the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, I thank the Deputy for the opportunity to update the House on the capital development projects at the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar.

The Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar, is a model 3 hospital delivering a 24-7 emergency department, general medicine, including regional stroke thrombolysis, general surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatrics-special care baby unit, and critical care, alongside a range of local and regional services on an inpatient, daycase and outpatient basis.

The catchment area for the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar, includes patients residing in Westmeath, Longford and the greater midlands area. The significant population increase in the midlands region, coupled with other factors such as ageing demographic pressure, has placed significant additional demands on the hospital.

As the Deputy will be aware, there are a number of distinct proposals for development at the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar. I understand a submission for capital works to accommodate the provision of a second CT scanner for the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar, is currently being prepared by the hospital management in conjunction with the local HSE estates office. The submission will have to be considered by the HSE’s capital steering committee before it can be approved. The application for a second CT scanner for the hospital will also be considered in the context of all other priority medical equipment replacement requests across all acute hospitals and subject to the availability of capital funding.

The provision of a new MRI at Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar, is included in the proposed new extension of the radiology department at the hospital. The project team is currently at an advanced stage in the pre-planning process with a view to lodging a full planning application in the first quarter of 2019. The HSE intends to complete the design of the project in 2019.

I understand that the Friends of Regional Hospital Mullingar, already referred to by the Deputy, has completed substantial fundraising to support the MRI facility and the Minister would like to acknowledge its contribution.

The timeframe for the completion of these capital projects will be subject to the successful completion of the planning permission process and the availability of capital funding. The Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, is happy to confirm that the provision of the new MRI facility at Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar, has been included in the national development plan, NDP, announced last year, as part of the Project Ireland 2040 policy initiative. The NDP provides €10.9 billion for health capital developments across the country, including both national programmes and individual projects across acute, primary and social care. The delivery of the NDP projects and programmes, including developments at the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar, will result in healthcare facilities that will allow for the implementation of new models of care and for the delivery of services in high-quality modern facilities.

The Department of Health and the HSE are currently engaged in a process to finalise the HSE capital plan for 2019. The plan will determine the projects that can progress in 2019 and beyond, having regard to the total available capital funding and the relevant priorities of each project. All health capital projects currently at various stages of development, such as those at Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar, are included as part of this process. Once the HSE has finalised its capital plan, it will be submitted to the Minister for Health for his consideration.

I accept that the Minister of State is only present to represent the Minister, Deputy Harris, and that she does not have the authority to give definitive commitments. She was given a script that she was to read out. Much of that information was not new, though. I can, and have, read Project Ireland 2040. I know what it entails regarding my constituency and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. Given the events of recent weeks and months, though, and by the Government's own admission, certain projects will be "reprofiled". I believe that is the word that the Government has used to describe delays in projects.

I had hoped that the Minister would be present. The Minister of State can bet her bottom dollar that, when the project is finally announced, he will not give her the job of announcing it. Rather, he will take that glory for himself.

The people of Mullingar have honoured their commitment. The HSE made a promise that, if they raised €950,000, which is not small fry by any measure, the HSE would not be found wanting. The people of Mullingar, its hinterland, Westmeath and other counties have contributed. We have honoured the commitment. Now we want assurances that the cost overruns at the children's hospital will have no impact on the delivery of the building for the MRI scanner. I have outlined why it is essential for the region. I want assurances that there will be no reprofiling of the facility to house the MRI scanner for the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar.

I assure the Deputy that I am not here for any glory.

There is none going around today.

The Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar, is an integral part of the Ireland East hospital group, providing health services and care for the people of Westmeath, Longford and surrounding areas in the midlands. The hospital provides quality patient services through the skills and values of staff to the best of its available resources. This has been achieved first and foremost through the commitment, hard work and professionalism of the hospital's staff.

The Government is committed to developing services and infrastructure in the hospital. Deputy Troy might want me to say more, but I cannot give him a commitment that this project will be funded. We will have to wait for funding under the capital plan to be announced. At that stage, it will be obvious to everyone what plans will be going ahead. Regarding the issue of the national children's hospital, which is much needed, I guarantee the House that projects will not be cancelled. I have heard that from the mouths of the Taoiseach and the Minister. Projects may have to be put back, but they certainly will not be cancelled.

That is the word.

The Deputies can call it what they like, but I am not in a position this evening to announce that Mullingar hospital will receive the funding in question. I acknowledge the hard work being done by community groups around the country. They fundraise at weekends on a regular basis for various issues relating to hospitals and beyond. I thank the people of Mullingar and the surrounding area for that. Without people putting their shoulders to the wheel, a lot would not get done in this country. I know that from being a community worker.

I will take on board the Deputy's concerns, frustrations and comments about the capital funding. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to announce what funding is available, but I am sure that it will become clear to all of us in time.

Light Rail Projects

I am delighted to be joined by my colleague, Deputy O'Callaghan, and our transport spokesperson, Deputy Troy. One area in which we would like and welcome reprofiling is that of the MetroLink project, albeit not in respect of metro north, as we have made clear. In spite of the commitments that the Minister gave two weeks ago during a Topical Issue debate that there would be no deviation in the MetroLink project, clearly that is now on the cards, and we on this side of the House are taking the opportunity to welcome it.

While this Topical Issue mentions specific towns, villages and townlands like Firhouse, Knocklyon, Rathfarnham, Templeogue and Greenhills, the link that we would like to see pursued could not reach those places without first going through Terenure, Harold's Cross and Rathmines, for example. My colleague will address that issue.

Investment in public transport infrastructure projects ought to be democratic. There are parts of Dublin that are well served with the green Luas line, the best and most successful quality bus corridor, QBC, in the country and the DART line. Then there is a vast gap between the green and red lines of the Luas where no adequate public transport is promised. It is a part of Dublin that the Minister served for five years while he was a Deputy.

This is not the first time that my colleagues have called for this, nor is it a recent development. Back in the day, I regularly called for the connection of the red and green lines. The obvious approach is to connect those two and bring them back into the city again.

For a vast swathe of the city, the reprofiling of the MetroLink project offers a once in a lifetime opportunity for the Government to invest hard-earned taxpayers' money into areas where there is a significant lack in the provision of public transport and where the National Transport Authority, NTA, is attempting to shoehorn BusConnects into front gardens and business premises along the affected routes.

I welcome this morning's report and the mention in The Irish Times of a north link proposal. I welcome the clarity that is beginning to be brought to this issue. I welcome that the NTA has followed the suggestion that I made in this Chamber and, last year, in the committee to resolve the south side impasse that had been bogging this project down.

My first choice is for the project to proceed as is from Sandyford to Swords as the NTA set out and as the Minister has argued for in public. It is a good and worthy project, a good investment and a great legacy project for the Minister to attach his name to. However, it is clear to me and, I presume, the Minister that the south side squabble and the endless succession of unsolicited, uncosted and untested alternative routes that have been put forward by all parties and none mean that this project is unlikely to proceed in a timely manner. Accordingly, our options are: to proceed with the project in two phases, which I suggested last year, and commence the badly needed and long overdue metro north element first; and to assess the various alternative routes set forth by the Opposition, thereby certainly delaying the badly needed and long delayed metro beyond 2027. I cannot understand why parties are proposing something that would effectively shaft the north side, which has been promised the metro for three decades, and I hope that the Minister will not accept it. A third option is to run the risk of no metro project at all, which is the least desirable option.

I am running out of time, so I will keep my first question to the Minister simple.

Given the report in the Irish Independent that the Minister sought and had a crisis meeting with the NTA and given the report in The Irish Times which details that the proposal which will come before the public mirrors my suggestion that the northside project proceed first, can the Minister confirm this is his current understanding of the forthcoming proposal? If not, can he confirm what the forthcoming proposal from the NTA is?

If it is the case that the proposal to dig up the Luas green line has been abandoned, I welcome that. It was a crazy proposal considering that hundreds of millions of euro were spent on constructing a very effective and popular Luas line. I ask the Minister to bring clarity to the matter because such clarity does not exist. We have read reports in newspapers. Does the Minister know whether the proposal has been abandoned?

The Minister also needs to recognise that a metro on the southside should not be abandoned. As Deputy Lahart and I have repeatedly argued, Dublin is crying out for a metro service to places in the south west of the city such as Terenure, Templeogue, Firhouse and Rathfarnham, which are areas outside my constituency. It is necessary to have a proper effective metro system in the city.

The Minister will also be aware that there is a proposal in respect of BusConnects. Some of the proposals are useful. We need to have faster bus traffic into the city and we need cycle lanes, but there is also a proposal that would significantly impact people living on Kimmage Road Lower, Rathfarnham Road, Terenure Road East and Rathgar Road. In respect of the last three of those roads, it is proposed that the NTA compulsorily acquire up to 6 m from the front gardens of houses in the area. This would cost a fortune is impractical and is vehemently opposed by people in the area.

We need sensible joined-up thinking in respect of transport proposals for the city. I ask the Minister to recommend to the NTA that it keep the drilling machine to be used for the metro project from the airport into the city centre and direct it south-west to those parts of the city that are crying out for public rail infrastructure. As Deputy Rock said, that would be a great legacy for the Minister to leave. However, he needs to identify what the political objectives are. If he does so, he would secure support of local communities. There is an opportunity to link up the metro system and the BusConnects system and solve a problem by coming up with a single integrated plan.

I thank the Deputies for raising this Topical Issue matter. Obviously, I have read the media reports this week regarding MetroLink and the NTA's development of a preferred route for public consultation. I can confirm that I met the NTA this week to be updated on the project. Separately, I also met the chair of Transport infrastructure Ireland, TII, recently during which the issue of MetroLink was discussed.

I have said repeatedly in the Dáil that the NTA and TII are developing revised proposals regarding MetroLink. It is obvious that those revised proposals will take account of the issues already raised by members of the public during last year’s public consultation. That should not be a shock to anyone here as it is the reason we have public consultations. I welcome that State agencies under my Department’s remit are very proactive in engaging with members of the public and listening to their views.

Last year’s emerging preferred route gave rise to much public commentary, particularly regarding a number of different local areas across the city. Major transformative projects will always cause impacts, although those impacts are ultimately intended to be positive. We all know, however, that in order to get to that place, there can occasionally be unwelcome and sometimes unpalatable impacts.

There is always a delicate balancing act between delivering an effective project and doing so in a way that minimises disruption. I have made clear that it is very important that members of the public can continue to travel conveniently in Dublin. That is essential, and travel disruption needs to be minimised. That is precisely what the NTA and TII are seeking to do. They are seeking to develop a new cross-city public transport corridor via Dublin Airport and out to Swords and, in doing so, increase capacity on the Luas green line. In trying to achieve that ambition, they are also listening to the views of the public, particularly people living those along the Luas green line, on what level of disruption, if any, is acceptable to deliver the increased capacity the line needs. We need to deliver, once and for all, the long-awaited cross-city link via the airport and out to north County Dublin.

It would be inappropriate for me to comment on particular alignments or proposals while the statutory agencies are still completing their work. As I have stated previously in this House, we need to move away from designing transport projects by press release and instead move towards what members of the public deserve, namely, planned and integrated development of public transport and land use strategies. We have a statutory transport strategy for the greater Dublin area which covers the period from 2016 to 2035. That strategy is the basis for the development of an integrated transport system for the entire greater Dublin area. It includes proposals across all public transport platforms, including metro, light rail and bus. Development of the strategy was subject to a full public consultation period and any and all interested parties were able to make their views known.

The Deputies have asked specifically about the Rathfarnham-Terenure corridor. I assure them that the needs of the entire city were considered by the NTA in drawing up its transport strategy. That strategy included looking at present and future travel demands on all the key corridors. The extremely detailed analysis conducted concluded that the actual and forecasted demand along the Rathfarnham-Terenure corridor does not meet the threshold that would justify a metro style service. The corridor is relatively low density with limited potential for new development. The present and future transport demand levels on the corridor are such that they can best be met through an improved bus service. That is exactly what BusConnects will seek to provide. MetroLink is a big project, one on which we all have views. I reassure the House that, as Minister, I have two key priorities here, namely, delivering an improved public transport system to serve the needs of the public now and into the future, and making sure that the agencies do this in a way that avoids unacceptable travel disruption. I have told my agencies that it would be unacceptable to have the Luas service closed for a significant period. I have also told them that the suggestion Deputies have read about in the media that there would be closures for four years or something approaching that is absolutely off the agenda. I will not countenance that sort of a delay or anything reflecting a fraction of it on any major piece of infrastructure or artery into any of our cities.

I will encourage everyone to engage again with the NTA and TII when they launch their new public consultation after publishing their preferred route in the coming weeks.

Today was the first time I saw a reference to a delay of four years. In terms of the original MetroLink plan, despite what the Minister said, no one has queried the fact that running the metro along the existing Luas green line would shut down the line for up to two years. As the Minister rightly recognised, to shut it down for a period of even two weeks would be catastrophic for commuters. He needs to clarify that. He has not denied that the MetroLink project could close the line or parts of it for up to two years, which would be catastrophic for commuters.

The Minister also said - I am glad he put it in writing - that the Government does not support the provision of Luas or metro style transport to the various areas mentioned in my constituency. I will bring that news back to my constituency. The Minister made similar remarks when he launched Project Ireland 2040. At the time, I stated in the House that Project Ireland 2040 had nothing for my constituency of Dublin South West. He has just reaffirmed that there will be nothing for my constituents in any review or reprofiling of MetroLink. I guarantee the Minister will revisit the matter very shortly.

I asked one straightforward question which was not answered. Does the report in this morning's edition of The Irish Times align with the Minister's understanding of the proposal based on his meetings with the NTA and TII? That question deserves an answer. Many people in the northside have been waiting in anticipation of this project for two to three decades. It seems we are at an impasse and there is a need for clarity. I opened my statement by welcoming the clarity in this matter and now I am opening my supplementary remarks by asking for clarity. I would genuinely appreciate some clarity on this matter.

Deputy Lahart named 11 areas for alternative routes, which are uncosted and untested. The Minister correctly noted previously that these routes simply do not have the population density to justify a metro project.

Is that Fine Gael policy?

The reason the current alignment of Sandyford to Swords was chosen was to facilitate access to Cherrywood and the Sandyford industrial estate. People need to travel this route because the Luas green line will reach maximum capacity by 2027. The route was included in Project Ireland 2040 for this reason and we want it to go ahead.

I agree with the Minister that we need to move away from designing transport projects by press release. Unfortunately, because of leaked information published in a newspaper today and yesterday, we seem to be designing transport projects by press leak. There is a legitimate public interest in the public being told if the information published in a newspaper today was correct or not. Obviously, the Minister knows much more than he is telling this House. It may be that he cannot tell the House but he can give us an indication as to whether he is prepared to stand up to the NTA if it persists with its proposal to dig up the Luas green line.

I also believe the Minister, Deputy Ross, needs to question his civil servants more and he needs to question the statutory bodies that report into him. The Minister is renowned as a person who can stand up and express his own opinion. I ask that he expresses his own views in respect of the fact that the south west of this city is not served by any rail infrastructure. There is an increasing division in Dublin between east and west. The east side has the Luas and the DART while the south west side, areas of which are represented by Deputy Lahart, is not served by any rail infrastructure and it needs to be.

I am very happy to express my own views to the NTA and TII about Government policy. I have noticed that all the Deputies here, quite understandably, have been representing their own constituencies in this area and that is absolutely fine. I must, however, look at it on an overall basis. I will not comment on any particular alignments that are being planned at the moment. I can tell the Deputies opposite that after a very thorough examination and analysis of the route the NTA found that there was not the population to merit the Terenure-Rathfarnham link. That is the finding they made and that is the story.

Yet they want to run a bus every four minutes on it.

I am happy to tell the Deputies this and comment on that route because that was their finding and I am being as open as possible about it.

In response to Deputy O'Rourke I cannot tell him any more than this because he is asking me to publish a route at this stage, which of course I have no intention of doing. The NTA and TII will shortly publish a preferred route. This will reflect the NTA and TII's consideration of issues raised in the first consultation and how best to address them. This will include how best to minimise disruption. The NTA expects to publish this around the second half of March and Deputies will just have to wait for this. When it has been published the NTA will then hold a new public consultation on a preferred route, and after this a decision on the final route will be made. This will be submitted to An Bord Pleanála at which stage statutory consultation periods will take place. This is the way it works. It works in this way for a very good reason.

Reference was made to the periods of four or two years and so on. I repeat to Deputy Lahart that I said four years because that was the subject of press speculation. I just said it so I can be quite emphatic that I would not tolerate a situation of a four year interruption to people on a major infrastructural line. It would be impossible to tolerate that. This was one of the suggestions.

Would the Minister tolerate two years?

Two years is too long also. I have made this absolutely clear. That would be a major issue in a capital city, or any other city, and it must not happen.

That is the proposal.

It may be a proposal but it will be a proposal that will not cross my desk.

It has crossed your desk.

I will not sign on a proposal of that sort.