Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Air Accident Investigations

Clare Daly

Ceist:

6. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport further to Parliamentary Question No. 305 of 13 March 2019, if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the second interim report into the Rescue 116 disaster states that no second interim report will be forthcoming in view of the fact that a draft report is at an advanced stage; and when the report will be finalised. [15032/19]

We have just passed the second anniversary of the tragic loss of life in the Rescue 116 disaster. The second interim report, which the Minister promised me would update us on the progress made to date, did not say anything. It was basically blank. The first interim report highlighted how an audit in 2010 by the International Civil Aviation Organization observed that while the Irish Aviation Authority, IAA, had established a mechanism for oversight of search and rescue co-ordination, there was no effective oversight of those entities for which it was responsible. In that context, what is the progress regarding this report and when will it be properly published?

We all sadly recall the tragic loss of Rescue 116 in the early hours of 14 March 2017 at Blackrock, County Mayo. First of all, I again wish to avail of this opportunity in the House to offer my sincere condolences to the families, colleagues and friends of the four crew members who lost their lives - Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, Captain Mark Duffy, Winch Operator Paul Ormsby and Winchman Ciarán Smith. I am also acutely aware that both Paul and Ciarán remain lost at sea.

I recall for the House that under international convention, European regulation and domestic law, the Air Accident Investigation Unit, AAIU, is the national safety investigation authority for aviation accidents and incidents. While it is located within my Department, it functions independently of me and my Department. Regulations provide for investigations to be held in private and are confidential. The sole purpose of such investigations is the prevention of future accidents and incidents and not to apportion blame or liability.

I can again confirm to the Deputy that in line with its usual procedures, the AAIU commenced its investigation into the tragic loss of R116 immediately on notification of the accident. The investigation has since published a preliminary report, AAIU Report No. 2017-006, which was published on 13 April 2017; an interim statement; AAIU Report No. 2018-004, which was published on 16 April 2018; and a brief second interim statement, which was published on 1 March 2019. All these reports are publicly available on the AAIU website. I was advised of the status of the second interim statement into the tragic loss of R116 on 28 February 2019 prior to its publication on 1 March 2019.

As I have previously advised the Deputy, no final report may be made to the Minister or made public until the draft report has been provided to interested parties for a 60-day confidential comment period following which any comments received must be considered and responded to by the AAIU. In that regard it is not possible at this time to provide the Deputy with a date for the publication of the final report.

I would, however, note that it is in no way unusual for the report not be finalised at this stage.  It is important that the investigation be thorough while also being as expeditious as possible, both to fulfil the national and international legal obligations on the AAIU and, indeed, out of respect for those who tragically lost their lives. For example, when the AAIU investigated EC-ITP, the Metroliner that crashed at Cork Airport on 10 February 2011, the final report was published on 28 January 2014. For international comparison, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch in the UK investigated an accident involving a Super Puma helicopter, registration G-REDL, which crashed in the UK on 1 April 2009. The final report was published on 24 November 2011.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The Accident Investigation Board Norway investigated an EC 225 Airbus Helicopter, which crashed on 29 April 2016. The final report was published  in July 2018.  The Italian Agenzia Nazionale per la Sicurezza del Vol investigated a Ryanair aircraft that crashed in Ciampino, Italy on 10 November 2008. The final report was published on 20 December 2018. I hope this additional information is of some help.

I would like to put on the record that I think there is something very strange about this situation. For ten years, the Irish Air Line Pilots Association, IALPA, has been raising concerns with successive Governments and Ministers for Transport, Tourism and Sport regarding the IAA's effectiveness in fulfilling its safety, regulatory and oversight obligations.

We know that the first interim report into Rescue 116, published last year, highlighted a continuing lack of clarity on individual and collective responsibility for oversight of all aspects of search and rescue, SAR, aviation operations in Ireland. What happened? In May of last year, the Minister said he had asked his officials to review current oversight arrangements without delay. The Irish Air Line Pilots Association, which says it has been highlighting this matter for more than a decade, stated around the same time that it was seeking an early meeting with the Minister to address these issues. Did it get this meeting? The first interim report called on the Minister to conduct a thorough review of oversight of search and rescue operations. In January, he said he had initiated a review, work on which was ongoing. Essentially, these issues have been raised since a 2010 audit but the gaps remain. Why has the review the Minister initiated not concluded? These matters are incredibly urgent and I am extremely worried about the lack of serious detail that is emerging.

The Deputy's questions merit answers. I will answer the question about what my Department is doing on foot of safety recommendations issued in the interim report, which I think is what the Deputy is addressing. The safety recommendation was that I "carry out a thorough review of SAR aviation operations in Ireland to ensure that there are appropriate processes, resources and personnel in place to provide effective, continuous, comprehensive and independent oversight of all aspects of these operations". My Department immediately set about commissioning a report by suitably qualified independent experts with strong international experience. The review process and the report were also the subject of peer review by various search and rescue entities in other jurisdictions. The report was published on the departmental website on 21 September 2018. There was a follow-up to the report on oversight of SAR aviation. Following publication of the Aerospace Qualified Entity, AQE, report on SAR aviation oversight, I committed to implement in full and without delay the 12 recommendations contained in the report. As matters stand, good progress is being made in line with timelines set out in the report.

There is something incredibly weird about all of this. I certainly do not have the answers but I will keep asking the questions. There are issues with search and rescue oversight in this State - on that I am absolutely clear. There is a lack of clarity and there are gaps in responsibility.

Regarding the Irish Aviation Authority specifically, does the Minister think the current corporate governance structure of the authority is appropriate for good safety regulatory oversight and enforcement? In particular, I would like him to comment on the following characteristics of the Irish Aviation Authority. Is the IAA good for oversight? Uniquely among national aviation authorities, the IAA is not subject to legislation on freedom of information is not subject to investigation by the Ombudsman, has a commercial mandate in aviation and has the power to write its own statutory instruments without direct input from an elected body. I am deeply concerned by the lack of an independent aviation safety oversight regime and the fact that the IAA has a variety of characteristics that would appear to work against its being effective and transparent. In the specific case of Rescue 116, there are issues with rescue and oversight. IALPA, which represents the pilots at the coalface of this, has been asking the Minister these questions. Is it not about time he started listening to them?

I thank the Deputy for her advice on meeting IALPA. I will consider that in view of what she has said.

In response to the Deputy's question about the Irish Aviation Authority, recommendation No. 12 in the AQE report was to ensure that the IAA is involved directly by the Irish Coast Guard in the aviation regulatory aspect of the contract with the operator to ensure consistency in the application of relevant regulations and processes. I am happy to report that the IAA and the Irish Coast Guard are engaging in regular discussions on this and work is advanced on identifying a more permanent mechanism to enable this type of engagement to continue in accordance with the recommendation in the AQE report. As Minister, I will continue to provide updates to the Air Accident Investigation Unit on the progress in implementing these actions. I committed to implement in full and without delay the 12 recommendations contained in the report and, as matters stand, good progress is being made in line with the timelines set down in the report.

Sports Capital Programme Applications

Martin Heydon

Ceist:

7. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport when the next round of sports capital grant funding will be opened for applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15124/19]

I ask the Minister for an update on the current round of sports capital grant applications for all sports clubs around the country that have applied for the scheme, particularly those close to my heart in County Kildare. When can they expect to hear word back? This year, under a new system, which is very much welcome, invalid applications will be considered. Will the Minister outline the process in respect of clubs whose applications are deemed invalid? Will they have an opportunity to rectify issues with their applications? What is the timeline involved in this regard? For clubs that did not have an opportunity to apply this time but now wish to do so, does the Minister envisage that another scheme will be opened up soon after this one?

I thank Deputy Heydon for his interest in this subject, as always, and for his constant interaction with me on the sports capital programme.

The sports capital programme is the primary vehicle for Government support for the development of sports and physical recreation facilities and the purchase of non-personal sports equipment throughout the country. Over the years, the programme has transformed the sporting landscape of the country, with new and improved facilities and equipment in practically every community.

The 2018 round of the sports capital programme closed for applications in October, with a record 2,337 applications submitted, seeking a total of €162 million in funding. Of these applications, 186 were for projects that were deemed invalid under the 2017 round of the programme but in respect of which corrected documents were submitted subsequently. These applications were assessed first and approximately €7 million in allocations to 170 projects was announced on 17 January. This is something Deputy Heydon and others sought, and it was very well received by the applicants in question who would otherwise still be waiting for funding. We were glad to facilitate this funding.

Work is now under way on assessing the new 2018 applications. For the first time, applicants who have submitted incorrect documentation under this round will be given the opportunity to correct their applications during the assessment period. Many Deputies, including Deputy Heydon, have raised this matter in the past. We were very glad to introduce this facility in the new round to give people who apply for sports capital grants - volunteers mainly - an opportunity to have their applications fully assessed and not invalidated. While there will be no undue delay in completing the assessment process, in view of the opportunity to correct documentation, the record number of applications received and the detailed information contained in each application, it is likely to take a number of months to have all applications assessed. Accordingly, I expect that it may be the third quarter of this year before the full set of allocations under this current round of the sports capital programme is announced. However, there are a number of non-personal sports equipment grants within this number, and we hope in the coming weeks to be able to make allocations to over 600 clubs that have applied for those grants, if possible. This would be helpful to many clubs coming into the summer period.

In answer to the final aspect of Deputy Heydon's question, as soon as we make the final allocations under the 2018 round of the sports capital programme, which I hope will be in autumn, we will carry out a full review of the 2018 round with a view to initiating the opening of the next round of the programme. I hope that will take place before the end of the year.

I thank the Minister of State for his response and for having an open door to feedback from us as to how the scheme has worked and ways in which it can be improved. For those volunteers who have put forward applications which for some reason were deemed invalid, giving them an opportunity to rectify matters is definitely important. Will the Minister of State clarify how this will work? Will all clubs receive a letter stating whether their applications are valid or invalid or will only clubs that had problems with validity get letters? When does the Minister of State envisage these letters will start to issue? How much time will the clubs have to rectify problems with their applications? If there are title deed issues, I presume not all of those will be able to be rectified but I presume the clubs will be given an opportunity to do so. I note that the Minister of State said it will be the third quarter of this year before we have the final decision. He might expand on which specific grants he may be able to allocate earlier. Are they purely for equipment, as opposed to infrastructural projects? He said he believes those grants may be allocated in the next month or two.

Some 635 applications from the total number received were for equipment only. Examples include rowing clubs looking for rowing boats and boxing clubs requesting punching bags etc. It might also include Gaelic Athletic Association, GAA, and soccer clubs seeking lawn mowers, as well as gyms looking only for gym equipment. Those types of applications are what we refer to as equipment-only applications. The total funding sought for those 635 applications is about €19 million. Logistically, we can group those applications and have them in the next couple of weeks. We hope to do that instead of those clubs having to wait with everybody else because the applications from those clubs are usually smaller. We will try to do that as soon as we can and try to facilitate as many clubs as possible as quickly as possible.

Regarding other grants and applications, departmental officials hope to write to everybody at the same time if there are issues. I refer to a document being missing, an inaccuracy and all of the things that would previously have invalidated an application. In those cases, the applicants will be written to and given a set time to submit the corrected document or documents. The officials will then reassess the applications. There is no more we can do if some remain invalid after that because of the logistics involved. Those applications that are valid will then be assessed with all of the others. As was stated, we hope the applications will then be eligible for allocation of funding in the autumn.

Does the Minister of State have a timeline as to when he expects to have adjudicated on all of the applications, valid or not? When might clubs expect feedback? I also have question about the large-scale application grants. The closing date for applications is later this month. I refer, in particular, to St. Conleth's Park, which is the county ground in Newbridge. The slogan "Newbridge or nowhere" became famous last year for good reason. The GAA did not want us playing a major championship game in our home ground. We are not proud of the state of our stand in Newbridge. We are, however, very proud of our football, ladies football, camogie and hurling teams. They play in St. Conleth's Park but our infrastructure could be much better. We need a large-scale infrastructural grant, as the Minister of State is aware. Given the application deadline, when does he anticipate a decision will be made on those projects? Kildare GAA is putting in its application currently.

We hope to have dealt with invalid cases by early summer. The window anticipated for correction of documents is two to three weeks. We would otherwise have a prolonged application and processing period. We will try to be as swift as possible with that element of the process. The Minister and I were very keen to introduce the large-scale sporting infrastructure fund. Our Department is frequently approached with requests for funding greater than that provided for in the traditional sports capital programme. We are glad to state we have secured capital funding for the large-scale sport infrastructure fund. We are currently receiving applications. The deadline is 17 April and we will start processing the applications received after that.

Initial feedback from officials in the Department indicates that scheme is going to be heavily oversubscribed. It is traditionally a feature of the regular sports capital programme that demand, unfortunately, far outstrips the funding available. We will, however, try to be as fair as possible to the applicants and as strategic as possible in the allocation of funding. We know there is pent up demand given the difficult period we are still arising from and the lack of investment that resulted from the economic crash. We will try to be as fast as possible in freeing up the finance for what we know are very necessary sporting infrastructure projects all over the country.

Railway Stations

Peter Burke

Ceist:

8. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views on the potential reopening of Killucan railway station in County Westmeath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15126/19]

What are the views of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, on the potential reopening of Killucan train station in County Westmeath and will he make a statement on the matter?

I thank the Deputy for his question and his interest in this issue. As he is aware the maintenance, renewal and operation of the rail network is a matter for Iarnród Éireann and I understand local residents have recently met with Iarnród Éireann to discuss the issue in detail. Project Ireland 2040 states the priority funding objective regarding mainline rail is the maintenance and renewal of the existing network so that it continues to provide a safe and reliable infrastructure enabling 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. A significant and recurring capital investment of around €200 million is required from the taxpayer every year.

I am pleased to inform Deputy Burke that the funding I have secured under Project Ireland 2040 means we are in a position to provide this "steady state" level of funding. This is significant and welcome progress. It will deliver benefits to passengers across the network, including Westmeath, by allowing for increased levels of investment in things like signalling, ballast cleaning and track relaying. That will improve passenger journey experiences and may lead to better journey times. Another key area of interest for Westmeath rail commuters is the need for increased capacity and services. The National Transport Authority, NTA, and Iarnród Éireann are currently examining how best to source additional rolling stock as efficiently and effectively as possible while ensuring value for money for the taxpayer.

The NTA and Iarnród Éireann are exploring two options. One is the purchase or lease of second-hand fleet units and the second is the purchase of additional carriages to augment the existing commuter fleet used on the Mullingar line. The Deputy will be aware that the first option is complicated by the different gauge of the Irish rail network compared with international norms. The NTA, however, has recently advertised seeking expressions of interest. It is currently considering the responses received, as well as the second option to purchase additional carriages. I expect a decision on the medium term response to the capacity challenge will be made very shortly.

I welcome additional funding for Iarnród Éireann and acknowledge the line from Sligo to Dublin has significant and serious issues. Mullingar commuters face significant challenges daily. This issue, however, specifically concerns Killucan train station. I was reading back and this issue was first raised in 2001. Much time has passed since then and various groups have brought this matter to the attention of different Ministers and Irish Rail. Deputy Penrose received a reply to a parliamentary question on this matter in 2015. It was stated an assessment was made that it would cost about €1.5 million to make the station operational again. I understand the station was closed in 1963 and signal functionality ended in 2005.

The local community has great interest in this project. It has been frequently raised with me. One critical aspect is a dual line across from the station. It is the only dual line all the way down from Enfield. The train stops roughly eight times a day at that location. Will the Minister agree to meet a delegation from that community? Requests have been sent to the Department over the years. I would also like to know if the Minister will ask Irish Rail if there might be any other avenues of funding that could be explored for regeneration.

I am aware there has been much local activity in Deputy Burke's area. Information from www.delvinvillage.com, a community website, indicates locals have maintained a long-standing campaign to reopen Killucan rail station. The group is Killucan Station Action Group, KSAG. In February 2019, some 50 people attended a meeting in a local pub under the banner of KSAG. I gather it was agreed at that meeting that the next step would be to meet Mr. Jim Meade of Irish Rail and, separately, the chief executive of Westmeath County Council to discuss the matter further. This was facilitated by various Deputies. It would appear KSAG was encouraged by that meeting. The group appears to believe the next step is to ensure Iarnród Éireann and the county council work together in developing a business case and then examining whether funding might be available through the Project Ireland 2040 rural regeneration and development fund. I encourage KSAG to do everything it can to promote this project.

I would be grateful for the Minister's assistance and guidance on this issue. Planning to reopen the station is a significant task for a community to undertake and colossal work has been done so far.

I would also be grateful if the Minister would determine whether funding might be available or permitted under the various rural recreation and development infrastructure funds. The Minister for Community and Rural Development, Deputy Ring, has made a significant investment in Kinnegad of late by providing priming finance to assess a significant project affecting multiple areas throughout the town. There is significant interest in this station among the commuter base in Kinnegad and Killucan and the surrounding area. Many commuters travel approximately 15 km in the wrong direction, to Mullingar or Kinnegad, in order to get a train or bus travelling to Dublin. This would be a huge asset to the community. I would be grateful if the Minister could secure guidance from the Department. I am fully aware that Iarnród Éireann is given a budget and that the CEO of Irish Rail has a duty to put forward projects within that funding. In the decade prior to 2001, 12 stations were reopened, so there is significant precedent for such an action when a business case is put forward.

I was happy to facilitate that meeting with Irish Rail a fortnight ago. It was a cross-party meeting with representatives of the groups in the community. It was very productive. I support my constituency colleague in his request and I seek the support of the Minister because the CEO of Irish Rail reports to him, as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. While the CEO has set out a clear platform regarding the next steps - and I have no doubt that the community groups will embrace those next steps - reopening the station is not on any Government or Irish Rail plan at the moment. The initiative would benefit from the Minister's political support. We all know of the importance of trying to get people out of cars and onto public transport. This station is located in a densely populated commuter belt that would benefit from its reopening. It would be most welcome if the Minister were to add his political clout and that of Irish Rail to the project.

I thank both Deputies for their contributions on what is obviously a hot local issue which those in the area will be extremely keen to see promoted. In response to Deputy Burke's request, I am happy to receive a delegation and to look at this issue with it if the Deputy thinks that would be worthwhile. As Deputy Troy stated, such a meeting would be open to all parties and all groups of Deputies, as it should, because it is an issue on which the local community can unite. I would ask to receive a business case before this is done. We are lacking any solid business case at the moment. Although the need for this reopening may be very acute in the area and may be felt by a large number of residents, a business case must also be made if there is to be any possibility or chance of this being progressed. While I do not have any figures, I have already outlined how the priority areas for investment have impacted on the rail network in Westmeath. I have not yet received any proposals in respect of Killucan station, however. Any such proposal would need to be based on a robust business case which complies with the public spending code and would be subject to the availability of funding. As the Deputies can see, our funding is currently fully committed but that would not stop me meeting a delegation comprising interested parties, themselves and other Deputies.

Tourism Promotion

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

9. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the steps he has taken in the past year and his future plans to promote areas such as the Lee Valley as being near the Wild Atlantic Way; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15161/19]

The Lee Valley has tremendous tourism potential and represents a product that could be developed and put out before a huge audience. The valley runs from the global brand name, Blarney Castle, up to the Gearagh and on to Gougane Barra, immediately adjacent to the Wild Atlantic Way. A slí na saoirse, or freedom trail, could be developed to attract people from the cruise liners that bring thousands of people into Cork Harbour. I would like the Minister of State to look at how we can get that moving and how the machinery of the State can be brought together to promote the Lee Valley and wider area to give the place the opportunity to develop its tourism potential.

I thank Deputy Aindrias Moynihan for raising this issue. I absolutely agree with him that there is huge potential in that part of Cork. It is a very beautiful and interesting part of the county which has a rich built heritage, a rich history and a rich culture. There is enormous potential in the area, which fits in very well with the experiences we are rolling out such as the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland's Ancient East.

As the Deputy is probably aware, the tourism agencies of Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland have operational responsibility for the development and promotion, both domestic and overseas, of regions such as the Lee Valley.

As part of this, Fáilte Ireland is engaging in a programme to extend the concept of the Wild Atlantic Way to the wider region, as distinct from the Wild Atlantic Way route. This encompasses areas that are not on the Wild Atlantic Way route but that are part of the wider hinterland. The main growth opportunity for these areas is to attract the visitor already coming from or going to the Wild Atlantic Way.  The Lee Valley has been designated part of the Wild Atlantic Way region and is included in all of Fáilte Ireland's development, promotional and business-support activities. The agency will be working with businesses on the ground and hosting a number of workshops in the area.  At these workshops it will explain how opportunities can be maximised and how to make the most of the Wild Atlantic Way region brand.

Fáilte Ireland is also currently reviewing their itineraries on the Wild Atlantic Way website.  It will be working with tourism businesses in the Wild Atlantic Way region to showcase experiences on the new Wild Atlantic Way website later this year to create an awareness of these experiences and grow visitor numbers to the area.

Furthermore, I understand that Tourism Ireland is working with Cork Airport and tourism industry partners to highlight Cork as a stand-alone destination and also as a gateway to both the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland's Ancient East. In this context, Tourism Ireland recommends that tourism businesses from the Lee Valley register on the industry opportunities website for a range of opportunities to promote their businesses across the world. For more detail, I have asked both tourism agencies to provide the Deputy with further information on their work in the Lee Valley area.  Both Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland will contact the Deputy directly in that regard.

Later this evening I will be attending the Meitheal exhibition in west Dublin. This is Fáilte Ireland's biggest event this year, at which it will be showcasing all parts of the country to people from 22 different countries. Next week I will be in North America with Tourism Ireland, leading a major trade mission aimed at continuing to grow the number of visitors from North America.

A referred reply was forwarded to the Deputy under Standing Order 42A

There was quite a bit of information in the Minister of State's response. The different workshops being offered by Fáilte Ireland are very much focused on beds and on the availability of accommodation as distinct from promoting the product and the area. Indeed, the advertising for the workshops held over the last year was - we will be generous - very focused. Not many people actually got to see the advertisement and have the opportunity to attend. While the plans sound great, they are not being translated into action in the way the Minister of State indicated. Will he outline the detail of the promotion of the region or the timeline of when it will take place? There is great urgency in the Macroom and wider Lee Valley area. The development of the new bypass will mean that east-west traffic will move faster through the area. We want to ensure that there is a real opportunity to grow the area's tourism potential.

The key aspect is engagement. There needs to a collaborative approach between industry, local communities, Fáilte Ireland, Tourism Ireland and Cork County Council. In recent years, there has been a devolution of authority in respect of tourism development to local authorities. That is very welcome because the ground-up approach is very important and preferable to the national agencies being responsible for everything. I have seen some really positive developments all over the country in that regard.

I draw to the Deputy's attention a scheme that was launched last week. It is aimed at creating destination towns. The concept is to get people to stay longer and spend more in areas that have not traditionally been considered locations for tourism and in which people have not traditionally tended to seek accommodation. The point of this is to develop authentic and off-the-beaten-path experiences. This scheme would suit the Lee Valley area very well and I encourage the Deputy to liaise with Cork County Council, which has a responsibility to apply to that scheme in respect of potential candidate towns. That is one avenue.

When Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland get in contact with the Deputy as a result of today's discussion, I advise him to ensure that there is ongoing collaboration. In my experience, one builds a product through constant collaboration and co-operation between agencies and all stakeholders. The Wild Atlantic Way is only a couple of years old and, as such, is only a fledgling experience. These initiatives take time to build up, but it is worth building solid foundations for them and working at them.

I am in contact with the various tourism organisations. We have great potential and a great offering, but the focus seems to be on beds as distinct from the experience, the offering and the promotion of same. There is an urgency, as we want to develop the area and not miss out on the opportunity just because traffic is passing by on the bypass.

I acknowledge the new scheme, which sounds positive, especially for smaller counties. Two towns will be able to gain. In a county the size of Cork, however, the scheme will be more diluted. Could there be a further focus on, and additional funding for, larger counties so that they can at least have an equal opportunity?

It is for Fáilte Ireland to make that call, but I would be happy to refer the matter to it. I do not doubt that great work is already under way on the ground in the Lee Valley. We are constantly learning from one another and best practice. In my county, for example, the Reeks district is a new and up and coming brand that has made great progress in recent years. It would be helpful to examine what people there are doing and the model they have applied. The Munster Vales to the Deputy's east have done brilliant work in recent years. These are the types of experience and brand from which other areas can learn and, in turn, they can learn from what is happening in the Lee Valley. There are strengths, weaknesses and opportunities in each area.

The destination towns scheme is not the only avenue of Fáilte Ireland or departmental funding. We have a greenway fund and numerous other capital funds are available through Fáilte Ireland. I advise the Deputy to be constantly aware of the types of funding available across the whole of government. For example, rural regeneration funding and other Department of Rural and Community Development funding can be helpful for developing tourism products.

Bus Éireann Services

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

10. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to review and improve the route 233 bus service in Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15162/19]

The route 233 bus service serves a wide community from Ballincollig all the way across the Lee Valley to Ballingeary. We need to see service improvements on that route so that people can view it as an alternative to cars for travelling to and from work and college or to moving into Cork city. This route serves a large, growing community, so I ask the Minister to make every effort to extend the service.

As the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in respect of public transport. I am not involved in the day-to-day operations of public transport. The House will understand that the operation of Bus Éireann services is a matter for the company, with oversight by the National Transport Authority, NTA. The NTA has entered into a contract with Bus Éireann for the provision of bus services in the State. In accordance with the terms of that contract, the day-to-day operation of those services is managed by Bus Éireann. The company is required to meet performance obligations in respect of service delivery, such as punctuality, services operated, vehicles in service and customer information.

The NTA has invested in a significant improvement to subsidised bus services in Cork city. This has included the provision of cross-city services, increased frequency on existing services and new services linking residential areas to places of employment and education. Further investment has been made in the city bus fleet, which is 100% fully accessible, and an increase in capacity through the purchase and deployment of double decker buses.

Regarding the area raised by the Deputy, the NTA has advised that it is planning to implement improvements to bus services in three separate phases during 2019. This is part of a general review of bus services in the greater Cork area. This review includes the Macroom-Cork corridor, including services from Kilmurry, Crookstown, Cloughduv, Aherla and Ovens currently provided on route 233. Phase 1, which was implemented on 13 January, is a significant development of route 220, with a doubling of the frequency to every 15 minutes and the provision of a 24-hour service. Phase 1 has resulted in a significant increase in passenger numbers. Phase 2, which is due for implementation in the middle of 2019, includes a new service between Ringaskiddy and Cork Airport via Ballygarvan and Carrigaline. Services on the Macroom-Cork corridor, including route 233, are part of the phase 3 improvements, which the NTA has advised are also expected to be implemented in the middle of 2019.

Good news, Minister.

I thank the Minister for those details. While I recognise that he is not involved in day-to-day issues, he is responsible for policy. Significant policies are outlined in Project Ireland 2040, which refers to improving the fleet and taking on the challenge of escalating traffic congestion. Anyone travelling on the N22 and trying to get off the Ballincollig bypass at Ovens bridge knows that traffic congestion is escalating.

It is important that there be improvements to this bus route, which serves the wider area. Bus Éireann is positive towards this and is keen to make improvements, but as we saw with route 220 in Ballincollig, there seems to be a bottleneck, in that getting approval from the NTA is a slow process. The NTA answers to the Minister, so I call on him to challenge it to implement policies as quickly as possible so that people can enjoy the benefit of bus services.

The Deputy is right, in that I have overall responsibility for policy in the transport area. One of the principal pillars of that policy is to get people out of their cars and onto buses. The Deputy and I are working in the same direction, as we want to improve the frequency and efficiency of bus services on route 233. I will improve services anywhere I feel it is advantageous in the sense that I will promote them and provide funding for the NTA to use wisely.

All parties are united on this issue. Everyone has his or her own particular patch that he or she wishes to see looked after. As a matter of policy, we are generally being successful in moving people onto buses, which is reflected in the greater frequency of services in Cork, Dublin and elsewhere.

A draft Cork metropolitan area transport strategy is being finalised by Cork city and county councils in partnership with the NTA. This strategy will provide a framework for the planning and delivery of transport infrastructure and services across the Cork metropolitan area for the period up to 2040.

Will the Minister contact the NTA and ask it to implement the existing policies quickly in the interests of people in Ballincollig, Ovens, Killumney, Aherla, Cloughduv, Crookstown and Kilmurry who are seeking a daily service on this route and a real option for travelling to and from college and work? There should also be a service each day for the likes of Coachford, Ballingeary and Inchigeelagh as opposed to the occasional service that is currently in place. Will the Minister add his political clout to the scheme? There is willingness on the part of Bus Éireann to make the improvements. They are included in its plans. Time and again, however, the bottleneck in such schemes lies with getting approval from the NTA. The NTA answers to the Minister. Will he highlight this issue with it and ask it to prioritise implementing the policies so that services on, for example, route 233 can be made more widely available to people locally?

I have made it clear that the Deputy is pushing his luck a little.

I do not blame him because that is what Deputies do. I am in charge of policy but I do not intervene and tell bus companies to move a certain bus or improve frequencies on certain routes. The Deputy would not expect me to do that. I will ensure, as I would in the context of any other case made in the House, that the NTA is informed of this debate and of the representations that have been made about the route in question.

The national development plan provides an indicative allocation of €200 million to support the development of BusConnects in Cork in line with the finalised recommendations of the new transport policy.

Question No. 11 replied to with Written Answers.

Rural Transport Services Provision

Martin Heydon

Ceist:

12. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the status of the progress of the review of the extended evening and weekend Local Link bus services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15123/19]

The Minister knows that I am a passionate advocate for increased investment and support for rural transport, particularly through the Local Link process. The pilot scheme that I proposed on behalf of the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party to the Minister last year has been very successful, by and large. The Minister, his officials and the NTA have carried out a review of that significant pilot scheme, which extended those bus routes across a number of counties to evenings and weekends. When does the Minister expect to have a final decision on that pilot scheme and the future of these additional routes which have worked very well? When will he communicate that final decision?

The Minister might communicate his answer directly to the Deputy.

I commend Deputy Heydon on being the prime mover in respect of this scheme, which has been very successful. I will communicate a full reply to him and I am sorry we do not have time for it now. I thank him for promoting this scheme. We are enthusiastic about it and determined that it should continue.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.