Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

The report published by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, this morning is a stark reminder of the negative impact of Brexit on the Irish economy, irrespective of the kind of Brexit that occurs. There is no such thing as a good Brexit. It will be negative for the economy, trade, jobs, households, the labour market and so on. The study's analysis of a no-deal, or disorderly, Brexit is particularly stark and significantly more negative than that of previous reports. Some 80,000 jobs will be lost in the event of a disorderly Brexit and there will be a severe impact on trade, notwithstanding whatever positive diversion we receive from foreign direct investment. The overall impact will be negative and damaging to Ireland, while a no-deal Brexit, in particular, will affect firms' capacity to trade, the labour market, the public finances, the household sector and the broader economy.

That underlines a reminder to politicians on all sides across Europe, in the United Kingdom and in Ireland that a no-deal scenario must be avoided if at all possible. I am not sure if that is the view of everybody across Europe or some of our friends in the United Kingdom. I got a sense at the European summit last week that some people were saying that they had had enough of this, that they should get rid of it and move on to the next business. It is not the next business for the 80,000 people who would lose their jobs or the livelihoods and companies that would be damaged. There has to be a reassertion of the imperative to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

I believe President Macron asked the Taoiseach what will happen if there is a no-deal Brexit. He asked the Taoiseach if Ireland would be fine, which is probably the overstatement of the week, to which the Taoiseach replied that we could cope. This has not been denied. I would like an explanation of how the 80,000 people who will lose their jobs will cope. We should take every opportunity to point out to our European colleagues that it needs a medium-term extension. There should be no equivocation about the necessity for one.

I believe Chancellor Angela Merkel asked the Taoiseach about the Border question. It has been revealed that the Commission is in talks with the Irish Government about a no-deal scenario and what would happen at the Border. It says that if there is no deal, there is no backstop, and there will be checks at the Border and, in essence, there will be a Border. The precise form and nature of the checks, how they will take place, and at what distance is being discussed. I think the Taoiseach said it is preliminary and there is a rough plan. Does the Taoiseach not think it is time for him to be upfront and transparent with the Dáil and public about the impact of a no-deal scenario on the Border question? What will happen at the Border? What is the nature of the discussions under way between the Commission and the Government? Will the Taoiseach outline details of the type of arrangements being discussed in the context of a no-deal scenario?

The ESRI report published this morning is a reminder of the very stark consequences that Brexit will have for Ireland and the Irish economy. It confirms many things that we knew already. Brexit will be bad for Ireland in any scenario. There is no such thing as a good Brexit for Ireland. While there may be opportunities, there will certainly be more downsides than upsides. It confirms again that a deal is better than no deal, and a managed no-deal situation would be better than a disorderly no-deal situation. It also shows that the economy will continue to grow. It will not be as fast as we anticipate it will grow in the event of a deal but it will continue to grow. We will not go into recession, at least according to the ESRI. There will continue to be an increase in the number of jobs. There will be more jobs, just not as many extra jobs as we would have in the event of a deal. Incomes will continue to rise, just not as fast as they would rise in the event of a deal. Public finances would deteriorate, but not to the extent that we witnessed ten years ago. We would move from a small surplus into a small deficit.

Having said that, we should not underestimate how serious a no-deal Brexit could be for some very vulnerable sectors in our economy, especially the agrifood sector, tourism and small exporters whose only market is the UK. That is where we are most exposed and they will need the most support should we end up in a no-deal scenario in a few weeks. I heard Deputy Martin say a moment ago that we should avoid no deal at all costs. I am not entirely sure what he means by "at all costs" or what price Fianna Fáil would be willing to pay to avoid no deal. I know at the start of Brexit his party conference voted in favour of gantries and hard border measures between North and South. Fianna Fáil's spokesperson on "Morning Ireland" refused to rule out-----

Stop playing politics with it and act like a Taoiseach.

Fianna Fáil's spokesperson on "Morning Ireland" refused to rule out or at least refused to answer a question about whether Fianna Fáil thinks we should be preparing for a physical border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, which we are not.

She asked for the Government to answer questions and to be upfront in the interview.

With reference to plans, we have put in place the necessary legislation to protect the rights of citizens and support businesses in the event that there is no deal. The legislation was signed by the President on St. Patrick's Day. I acknowledge the co-operation of this House and the Seanad in getting that important legislation through. I hope it will not be needed, but it is done and was enacted well ahead of time.

Tomorrow the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, and the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, will launch the future Brexit loan scheme to provide finance for businesses which may need it in order to adapt their businesses in the event that Brexit happens. We have secured the common travel area through a bilateral convention with the United Kingdom, making sure there will continue to be free travel between Britain and Ireland and students from the North and the South and cross-Border workers will not be affected. We have developed a package of measures that we can put in place very quickly to support jobs and incomes in the agrifood and export sectors, with a series of loan arrangements that we can put in place to intervene to rescue and restructure businesses to turn them around in the event that there is no deal.

I do not intend to lower myself to the petty partisan politics in which the Taoiseach engaged just now. I will just remind him that we voted for the withdrawal treaty. We facilitated and expedited the legislation to prepare Ireland for a no-deal Brexit. We have been constructive. Ours has been the only party here that has been resolute in avoiding the need for a general election in order that the Government will have space to negotiate on Brexit. We have been supportive of the national position. That said, a no-deal Brexit should be avoided. Britain agrees with the withdrawal treaty, or at least the British Government and the British Parliament do. No one is talking about compromising on the essentials in the context of a hard border and so on. The Taoiseach did, however, hear me talk about an extension. It worried me that President Macron had asked the Taoiseach on the day of the meeting if Ireland would be fine in the event that there was a no-deal Brexit. That is my point. There was a sense in Brussels last week that this should be moved on at any cost. The date was moved to 12 April. Sometimes it takes a little more patience to work out a resolution.

I have asked a question that I have been asking for three months and which the Taoiseach has again avoided. That is why he went down the road he took to avoid answering the question I asked. What is the nature of the discussions that have been ongoing between the Taoiseach and the Government and the Commission on the Border question in the event that there is a no-deal Brexit? Can the Taoiseach give the House an honest answer to that question that I have been asking for three months?

The Deputy said he thought a no-deal Brexit should be avoided at all costs. They were his words.

Answer the question.

I do not think it is petty to ask the Deputy to explain what he meant by it, but I will not pursue it. He is aware that I supported an extension and said so before the Council meeting yesterday. We have granted the United Kingdom an extension which was supported by President Macron and agreed to by all 27 member states.

The Taoiseach did not. It is conditional.

There were differences of opinion on which date we should choose, but there was no push-back against there being an extension. As 27 member states, we stand behind the extension we agreed to last week.

Nobody can say for sure what will happen in a no-deal scenario at the Border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. We will hold the United Kingdom Government to its existing commitments on the Good Friday Agreement, to ensure the free movement of people and free trade, North and South-----

Has the Taoiseach talked to the Commission?

-----and its commitment made in December 2017 to maintain full regulatory alignment. Talks with the Commission have been happening at official level on exploring contingencies. What they will be nobody can say for sure because a lot will depend on the approach the UK Government takes if it maintains full regulatory alignment-----

Can the Taoiseach share it with us?

There is nothing to share; they are preliminary discussions. There are no papers or documents.

Of course there is something to share.

That is a conspiracy theory.

The Government is having discussions. Can it not share what is being discussed?

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action is meeting today and tomorrow to sign off on its report which is due to be published on Thursday. The Taoiseach, Fine Gael and its partners in Fianna Fáil support increasing carbon taxes and it is almost certain that that recommendation will feature in the committee's report. Regardless, the Taoiseach has indicated that it is, in effect, Government policy. At the weekend he said increasing carbon taxes was on the table for inclusion in the October budget and that increases would be in line with the committee's recommendation of €80 per tonne, or four times the current level.

Climate change is a massive problem. It is perhaps the defining challenge of our generation. There is an all of society acceptance that IT must be tackled and that we are already way behind where we need to be in tackling the issue effectively. The way to fight climate change is not to penalise ordinary families and working people by increasing their fuel costs or utility bills. That is not something Sinn Féin will support. We will not support any increase in carbon tax that will not protect low and middle income earners and ensure the big polluters will carry their responsibilities and pay their way. We already have very high fuel and energy costs in this state and the current carbon tax has not lowered emissions levels. Carbon emissions have, in fact, increased and loading another layer of cost and tax on ordinary people will not change behaviour, yet the Government seems intent on pursuing this course of action. Unless it puts measures in place to give families alternatives, a carbon tax is just a punitive tax and must absolutely be opposed. The Taoiseach should be aware that there are families who are at the pin of their collar. They are just about getting by and should not have to pay the price because of the actions of big corporate polluters. I hope the Taoiseach agrees with that sentiment. We need to see climate change tackled in a progressive way that will combine social justice and fairness with the obvious environmental demands. People need to be able to switch to alternatives. That means that we need a comprehensive retrofitting programme. People need to be able to switch to heat pumps easily, make the change to electric vehicles in a cost effective way and avail of microgeneration. We also need real investment in public transport.

The type of carbon tax the Government is proposing is not the solution. It would be ineffective, regressive and only creates the illusion of action. Can the Taoiseach accept that, as currently devised, the Government's carbon tax plan will impact disproportionately on low and middle income families who cannot afford to switch to electric cars and make their homes more fuel efficient? Will he accept that this approach is wrong and commit to going back to the drawing board and scrapping the Government's regressive and out of touch proposals?

The Deputy is getting the all-party committee mixed up with the Government and the Fine Gael Party.

The Taoiseach does that all the time.

Never allow the facts to get in the way of a good political charge. I have published no carbon tax plan. The all-party committee is working on the issue and I hope it will be able to report this week. I also hope we will all give its report a good reading and a fair hearing before coming out against it.

The Deputy will recall that the Government took the decision not to increase carbon tax in the last budget and that we sustained some criticism for not doing so. By the way, we did increase the fuel allowance, but we did not increase the carbon tax and took the decision not to do so for very good reasons. First, VAT was going up in the new year and we did not want to increase two taxes; rather, we wanted to reduce taxes, as we did in the case of income tax and USC, for example. Second, we were very aware of the impact higher fuel prices could have on people who needed to fill their tank and heat their homes, people who used gas and electricity, as all of us do, and people who needed to commute and had no other choice but to commute by car. That is why we took the decision, for which we were heavily criticised, not to increase carbon tax in the last budget.

We do need, however, to take climate action. We are well behind in meeting our emissions targets. We need to catch up and be honest with people. The carbon tax will not solve the problem of climate change, but we will not solve it without a carbon tax. It is and has to be part of the solution. It involves three measures: regulation; investment in public transport and renewable energy initiatives and the carbon tax. The whole point of having the carbon tax is that it is done in a way that nudges people and corporations to change their behaviour. It makes it more economical to buy an electric vehicle rather than a diesel car and to invest in a fuel pump, rather than using alternative heating systems.

The Deputy may wish to pretend to people that the Government can somehow come up with €50 billion, €60 billion or €70 billion to do all of it in the form of grants.

It cannot. That is not true. It is not honest. The Deputy is not being honest and is not really on the side of the environment. We cannot meet our obligations when it comes to climate change unless we have carbon tax, not as a solution, but it does need to be part of the solution. I saw it suggested yesterday that the carbon tax might increase fourfold in the next budget and that this is somehow on the table. I can say emphatically that it is not. There is no prospect of a carbon tax increase of that scale or anything remotely approaching it being proposed by the Government in the next budget. If there is an increase in the carbon tax - the budget has to be negotiated, as Deputies are aware - it is my strong view that the money should be ring-fenced and given back to people in the form of increases in the fuel allowance to protect those who are least well off, in the form of increased tax credits, and in the form of a dividend model. That is the model I prefer. I have no doubt that Sinn Féin will do what it always does, the populist thing, which is to peddle solutions that do not add up, oppose things that are unpopular, and still somehow pretend it is for the environment. We all know the far left is anti-environment.

Sadly, the evidence of this fee and dividend model that the Taoiseach is advocating, whereby people receive their money back on the carbon tax they pay, has been proven not to work. It has not worked in British Columbia in Canada, where emissions have not gone down. It has not worked in Norway and it will not work here. It will not work for the very simple reason that we cannot change people's behaviours in ways that they cannot afford. It may well be that the tax Fine Gael will negotiate with its coalition partners in Fianna Fáil may facilitate the better-off in society to improve the energy rating of their homes. They may even invest in an expensive electric car. I can tell the Taoiseach that for the broad mass of people, that is simply beyond their reach. Approaches that do work are investment in public infrastructure and investment in programmes that facilitate and support people to change their behaviour. What does work is straight-up investment in the green economy and green jobs. This make-believe scenario will not work.

I am glad to hear the Taoiseach is not going to increase the carbon tax fourfold, although he was quoted over the weekend as making precisely that promise.

I was misquoted. I thank the Deputy.

By what quantum will the Taoiseach increase the tax? Will he be mindful of the fact that we have very high energy prices in the State already and that householders already contribute to helping our environment through the public service obligation, PSO, levy on every electricity bill? That nets €500 million per annum to support renewable energies. I dare say people outside this Chamber do not think they have seen much bang for those particular bucks in terms of protecting the environment.

I do not know where the Deputy gets her information but carbon emissions in British Columbia are down by 9% since they introduced their carbon charge regime. Carbon tax does not reduce emissions overnight. That is not the point. The point is that over time, it tips the balance in favour of investment in green technologies and heating systems and in electrical vehicles over those that are polluting. The Deputy sounds to me like one of the hard Brexiteers across the water. We know what she is against but we do not know what she is for. The stuff she is for is only the stuff that is popular. If she thinks we are going to meet our obligations to reduce carbon emissions, be able to take climate action, and respond to the demands of those young people who want us to get our act together on climate change by only doing things that are popular, by only doing investments and handing out grants, then I do not think even she believes her own rubbish.

In February, the Minister for Finance warned that Brexit could cost at least 40,000 jobs. This week, the Department of Finance and the ESRI have warned that a disorderly Brexit could cost this country 80,000 jobs. Some of these job losses would be due to lower economic growth and lower job creation. There is also an obvious real risk to tens of thousands of current jobs. What is worse, these jobs are concentrated in certain economic sectors and certain regions, as the Taoiseach has acknowledged. Food exporters, many of whom only export to Britain, are particularly vulnerable to tariffs that may arise.

The UK has signalled that tariffs will be in place for dairy and beef products, but other sectors are also at risk. Many manufacturers rely on materials and components sourced in Britain. This is a reality of the global supply chain. Those who look to Britain for imports will be under pressure. Any tariff or restriction on imports from Britain will impact on the capacity of all manufacturers to export to other countries, which will impact on their bottom line. It will affect their competitiveness, including their ability to produce goods quickly enough in the just-in-time global economy. Another risk to Ireland is the potential for collapse in the euro-sterling exchange rate. Wild fluctuations could have devastating effects on many businesses.

The Labour Party's core concern is the impact of Brexit on jobs and livelihoods. The Taoiseach has made a bold claim that the Government will protect incomes and jobs and will support businesses "whatever happens in the next few weeks". My understanding is that the EU has agreed to approve state aid to the value of €200 million. Is that the case? With 80,000 jobs at risk, surely that cannot be true. A total of €200 million in soft loans is not enough, and it is not the correct type of support for the potential impact on jobs that would flow from a hard Brexit. Labour has joined the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, in calling on the Government to make sure that at least €500 million is available to the new Brexit preparation fund. We can subsidise the most vulnerable firms in the event of a hard Brexit. It is likely that more than that amount will be required if the impact, as set out by the ESRI, actually comes to pass.

Will the Government commit to ensuring that there is no legal impediment to the putting in place immediately if a hard Brexit happens in the next couple of weeks of the supports necessary to maintain jobs in our economy? Will the Government confirm that it will provide direct subsidies to crisis hit firms to maintain jobs in the worst-case scenario?

It is worth pointing out that we are doing a lot already. We have already made low-cost loans available to businesses. The Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Humphreys, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, will launch the next of those loans on Wednesday, the future growth loan, which will enable businesses to get finance so that they can restructure, change the products they make and reorient to new markets if they need to do so. We have been putting endless supports in place in the last couple of months, ranging from loans-----

Not endless, but substantial. We have put loans in place, as well as hosting seminars and producing information. That process is ongoing.

I am not sure where the figure of €200 million comes from. Neither the Tánaiste nor I are familiar with such a limit, but we believe the Deputy might be referring to the rescue and restructure element of it, which is only one element of the package in place to support business. That element was increased by the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, from €20 million to €200 million in the last while. That is a particular instrument where money can be provided to a business to rescue it if necessary and to fund restructuring so that it can change the way it does its business to ensure its survival. That is a particular instrument for particular types of businesses and mainly involves exporters not involved in the agrifood sector.

There are different supports in place for the agrifood sector, including farmers, fishermen and primary producers for the wider industry. Those supports are provided by the Common Agricultural Policy and the CMO regulation. We will require sums very far north of €200 million to support incomes and save jobs in the agrifood sector. I said at the weekend that if we end up in a no-deal Brexit scenario, no amount of Government intervention or State support will make it all okay. I meant that. It will still be bad. However, we can mitigate the damage substantially by protecting incomes and protecting jobs in the first phase, and in the second phase by providing funding to restructure industry to produce new products, provide new services and to orientate to new markets where it is viable to do so.

We know the damage the economic fire of Brexit will cause. I am asking the Taoiseach to outline specifically the fire protections he will put in place to mitigate that damage.

The Taoiseach has said that €200 million for sanctioned state aid is not the ceiling of it. Precisely how much to date has been approved by the EU for state aid in the event of a hard Brexit?

When I asked the Taoiseach what the Government had put in place, he spoke about endless supports, from loans to seminars. Loans are no good to some companies that cannot pay back loans in the short term. They are vital to some. Seminars will not sustain jobs. They are helpful in advising people, but in the event that the hard Brexit that has been forecast and mapped by the ESRI comes to pass, people will need to know what concrete financial supports are there to sustain them through the crisis until they figure out how to continue. Will the Taoiseach quantify the sums the Government will deploy?

In addition to the loans, the information, the seminars and the training, grants have also been issued by Enterprise Ireland, InterTradeIreland-----

I do not have that exact figure in front of me, but it has been a whole package of things. This has been done already. We may never see a no-deal Brexit and yet we have done all these things just in case it happens.

In terms of the fire protections, as the Deputy described them, he will be aware of the €200 million rescue and restructure fund for business. I have explained how that would work. There would be other instruments for farmers and the agrifood sector, and other instruments for the fishing sector should our fishermen lose access to the UK waters in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

There is a Brexit stakeholders forum tomorrow. We will be able to share more information with leaders, stakeholders and parties. We do not have an exact final figure because that is still being worked on with the Commission. As the Deputy knows, when it comes to agriculture a certain amount will come from the Commission, which we can then match either one-to-one or by multiples. We are still in discussion on the extent by which we are allowed to top it up.

As I do not want to create the wrong impression, it is very important to bear in mind that it is not as if the Government has hundreds of millions or billions of euro sitting in a bank account somewhere to use. This will be borrowed money if we have to do it. We will move from surplus into deficit, but if that is what we have to do to protect jobs, incomes and livelihoods, and to save businesses, farms and the agrifood sector, we will do it. In the event of a deal being agreed, I would not like to create the impression that this money is available for something else. It is not. It would be borrowed money.

The reason we set up a rainy day fund and the reason we ran a budget surplus this year, against the advice of some people who said we should borrow more and spend more, was so we would be in a position to borrow if we have to, and we can.

There is doubt over whether the Government has made up its mind on what we will do with the south part of the MetroLink project. As we are speaking, the National Transport Authority has outlined its latest paper on the next level of design options. I have had a chance to read it online and we look forward to attending its session this afternoon with Members of Parliament to ask questions. I hope we can agree, as we have agreed on the previous occasion, to bring this before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport for a really detailed debate. We all know the history of this with 20 years of planning the metro. It was always planned to be extended to the Luas green line. Real concerns arise that in a driverless segregated system, the section from Ranelagh to Dundrum, would have the serious consequences of loss of pedestrian, cycling and local accessibility. We had expected some sort of response to that today to see what would be technically possible.

The response seems to be to put it off for 20 years. We will not proceed now. We will run the tunnel machine beyond Charlemont to just south of Ranelagh and use it as a shunting yard while we wait 20 years before upgrading it. That is not the right approach to take. We need to be ambitious in public transport development. What the Taoiseach said earlier about the climate is very true. We need to do many things and so much more. In transport alone, even with the MetroLink and the BusConnects project in Dublin, the National Transport Authority expects a 30% increase in emissions when what we need a 30% decrease by 2030.

The Government needs to be open to looking at all options, including extending the Luas green line now if that is the best transport solution. We should look at other solutions. One of people's main concerns is that the lack of upgrade to the Luas green line will see people from Sandyford, Cherrywood and beyond, where large developments are occurring, not having a sufficient capacity to get on the line.

That is a real issue. One option we could choose to solve that problem would be that rather than stopping the tunnelling machine in Ranelagh, it could continue on to UCD and from there to Sandyford, thus creating a new line that has heightened demands - UCD is a huge centre and there are others along that route – thereby solving that problem. The other might be to run it to the south west to Terenure and Rathfarnham but, critically, we are in a consultation process where we should not shut out the options. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport said last month: "I won't countenance any project which comes up with a proposal which inconveniences commuters" to the extent of a four-year closure, which he stated was possible. He said: "it won't be happening". Is that the last word from the Government on this issue or can we examine all the options in a sensible way to make sure we get a transport solution for south Dublin? We will need the same for west and north Dublin and for every other city and every rural community. We need radical ambitious plans for public transport to stop the €2 billion cost of gridlock that is evolving, to tackle our emissions and to improve our quality of life. Doing nothing or abandoning public transport projects should not be the answer. Is the Taoiseach open to looking at all the options that are still before us?

I thank the Deputy for his question. First, to pick up on a theme mentioned earlier, I do not think we can meet our obligations when it comes to reducing emissions, taking climate action or satisfying the demands of young people who want us to do more around climate change without a metro but just like a carbon tax, a metro on its own does not solve the problem. It only deals with one part of the problem but it needs to be all these things and not any one of them if we are serious about taking climate action.

Like the Deputy, I also represent a commuter constituency. Today thousands of my constituents will spend an hour or more in their cars or on the bus getting in and out of town, which has an enormous impact on people's quality of life, but things can be so much better. In a city of this size we can have people getting into the city centre in 30 or 35 minutes, even from the outer suburbs, but that means investing in public transport and cycling and in projects such as the metro and BusConnects as well as, for example, DART electrification to the western suburbs.

All the solutions are not in Dublin. In order to solve our congestion problems we need to build up the other big cities and some other towns so that we have much more balanced development. All the philosophy behind Project Ireland 2040 is about growing those towns and cities at twice the rate of Dublin. Part of the solution to Dublin's problems is to develop our other cities and we are very committed to that. It involves better planning in Dublin so we that have much more high density, which would make public transport more viable. It also involves investment in cycling and public transport, as the Deputy mentioned.

I had a chance to meet the people in the National Transport Authority a few weeks ago to get a briefing from them as to what the direction of travel was. My understanding is that the new alignment, which the authority is going to produce today, will involve some important changes. It will protect the Na Fianna GAA club, which I am sure all of us will agree is very important. It will also protect Kickhams, which is also very important, in order that the club can move to its new grounds and have new facilities in Ballymun. It will change the proposal to tunnel through Ranelagh, which I believe the residents of Ranelagh will very much welcome. Rather than going the full way down the line, the tunnel will stop in Ranelagh and the Luas south of there, the green line, will be very significantly upgraded. The reason the authority decided not to go the whole way down that line is that it would involve closing the Luas for two to four years, which it had determined, and I agree, was not a viable option.

To answer the Deputy's question, notwithstanding the fact that this is a statutory process, we need to be open to suggestions as to where the tunnel should go from there. The Deputy suggested Terenure and Rathfarnham but they have said to me that the density there would not justify it - we would have to put in a lot more high-rise building around there in order to justify it - but that UCD and Sandyford might make sense. "Yes" is the answer to the Deputy's question. I think we should be open to considering that but I would not like that to hold up the project because nobody is arguing against it in the airport, in Swords, Glasnevin, Santry or at the Mater - that entire area has been waiting for this for far too long. I would not like anything to hold that up.

I fully agree; nothing should hold it up. We should, at real speed, look at those other options. I take some comfort from the Taoiseach saying the Government is willing to do that and that with respect to the comment by the Minister, Deputy Ross, to the effect that he would not countenance that proposal and that it would not be happening, nothing else happening is not the final word.

That area in Rathfarnham and beyond to Knocklyon and Firhouse is very badly served by public transport and as there is large-scale development happening in the area, those people deserve a first class public transport system. The advantage of running to UCD is that we could have a whole series of station stops where development is going to occur anyway. To put the stations in at the same time as the foundations are being poured makes real sense as the numbers would be huge straightaway and it solves the problem of capacity on the green line.

It is a statutory process. We do not want to run the NTA's business. It has to do the proper engineering analysis and this has to be done in the end with best transport engineering. Where is the best place for us to have that civil debate? It is not just obsessing about south Dublin, but south Dublin happens to be the issue before us and is where we will have a tunnelling machine coming across the Liffey. We need to know what to do. Are we best to give our advice to the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport or directly to the NTA? How do we engage with the Government so the options suggested here today can be considered in a rational, reasoned and ambitious way?

As I understand it, what the Minister, Deputy Ross, said he cannot countenance is a two-year to four-year closure of the Luas green line. I agree with him. I think that would be unacceptable.

Why was it published in the first place? They all endorsed it a couple of years ago.

Second, I think we should have a discussion about where the tunnel goes. The current proposal, as I understand it, is to leave the machine in the ground somewhere around Ranelagh. We should have that discussion about whether it would make sense to go west or east from there, perhaps to UCD, perhaps to Sandyford. As the Deputy points out, the option of going to Sandyford solves the long-term problem of the Luas green line, so there is common sense in that, in my view.

How do we take it from here? Again, as I understand it, it is a statutory process, the NTA will publish the revised route today and there will be a further statutory consultation period during which people will be able to make further suggestions. An engagement with the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport, chaired by Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, would be another good step forward. However, I would say this and I know the Deputy will agree with me: if we are going to examine where the tunnel goes south, let us not allow it to hold up the rest of the project. Nobody doubts the need for it at Swords, the airport, Santry, DCU, the Mater, the north inner city, the intersect with the Maynooth line at Glasnevin and through to O'Connell Street, Trinity and St. Stephen's Green, and linking up with DART and Luas. We need to get this done.