Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Ports Traffic

Robert Troy

Ceist:

1. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will address the recent announcement that Dublin Port will be significantly restricting the number of cruise ships which can enter the port and the negative impacts this will have on tourism; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15461/19]

Will the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport address the recent announcement by Dublin Port to significantly reduce and restrict the number of cruise ships which can enter the port between 2021 and 2023, along with the negative impact this will have on the tourism industry?

I am keen to mitigate any adverse effects that Brexit or other factors may have on the tourism industry, including cruise tourism. With these concerns in mind, I met with the Dublin Port Company recently regarding its capital development plans and rationale for prioritisation in the context of Brexit, as well as the specifics with regard to cruise berths.

At the meeting, Dublin Port outlined the ambitious development programme under way to provide additional cargo handling capacity to cater for our growing economy. Given space constraints, it was explained that cruise berths will have to be limited for a period from 2021 onwards to allow this construction work to take place, while ensuring the port can continue to handle large cargo volumes. It is expected the period of disruption will be two to three years and will impact on three cruise seasons.

Nonetheless, Dublin Port confirmed it will operate a full cruise season in 2019 and 2020. Although the subsequent temporary reduction in berths available to cruise calls is regrettable, the company intends to build cruise calls back to 150 ships for the 2024-2025 season. The company is also considering the potential for a significant additional investment which would increase capacity for cruise liner berthing to over 200 ships. Consideration of that investment is at an early stage and would be conditional on some factors outside of Dublin Port's control, such as securing the necessary finance and securing long-term guarantees from the cruise industry.

With regard to the wider tourism industry, in my meeting with the company, I emphasised the need for the Dublin Port Company to take account of the broader impacts of its commercial decisions. This includes the effect on sectors supporting the cruise tourism industry or serving cruise visitors, not just in Dublin but in other ports and associated regions. While Dublin Port is important in attracting cruise liners to Ireland through Dublin, the benefits that accrue to other ports around our coast are significant.

In the meantime, Cobh continues as a dedicated cruise berth and will remain so post Brexit. The Port of Cork is working with Belfast Harbour to see if it can take some of the additional business which may be lost as a result of Dublin Port's infrastructural works. In addition, Fáilte Ireland continues to support the development and promotion of the cruise tourism sector.

There is significant concern in the industry because of the 50% reduction in the number of cruise ships that will come into Dublin Port, as well as the reduction in their sizes. The stakeholders claim there was very much a lack of information given to them on this point. I accept there are capacity issues at the port because of the significant growth in its freight business. That in itself must be welcomed. However, it should not be to the detriment of the leisure cruise industry.

While freight might be more profitable for the port, the company has a responsibility to ensure key tourism sectors are protected also. Last year, 442,000 visitors on cruise liners came to Dublin which contributed €50 million to the economy, not insignificant by any manner or means.

I know from an interview on “Morning Ireland” that the Minister met with the chief executive officer of the Dublin Port Company last month. Does the Minister meet regularly with the company on its growth and needs, given its centrality to the economy? Was he aware of this announcement in advance? Has he met with the key stakeholders and representative group of the cruise line industry? The Minister said this will only be a temporary arrangement and that a significant investment will be made. He also made the point that no funding has yet been secured for that investment, however.

The Deputy’s time is up.

How can the Minister be sure this significant investment can be made when the resources are not allocated for it?

I was taken somewhat by surprise by this announcement and did not expect anything quite so immediate. I have responded to it by bringing in the chairman and the chief executive of the Dublin Port Company. Since becoming Minister, I am a regular visitor to and frequently keep in touch with the company, as do my officials. There is no lack of communication normally.

The chief executive has made it quite clear that this is a temporary blip. There is no intention that the reduction in the number of cruise ships will last for more than two years. It is expected the numbers will go up subsequently. For 2020, bookings are already at 140 and it will hit a new peak this year.

If the Minister is a frequent visitor to Dublin Port but was taken by surprise by this announcement, is he just looking at the seagulls there?

This announcement will have serious consequences for the leisure industry. Will the Minister give a commitment that he will meet the industry? Will he also give a commitment that this decision will be reviewed? The shipping freight industry is important, particularly with Brexit. Will he ensure it can work together with the cruise industry in the short term while this investment is made?

The Minister acknowledged that in order for the port to be able to cater for the ships docking in it now and to increase that capacity, it will need a significant infrastructural investment. Are the resources for that investment ring-fenced? If not, how can the Minister be confident that this will be a blip and a short-term problem?

The port has shown a great commitment to the cruise industry and cruise liner numbers have been rising. The Deputy is well aware of the pressures of freight and cargo on Dublin Port. It is not a matter of making a choice of one or the other. It is about ensuring cargo is secured and there is enough space for it.

I was surprised by the timing of this particular announcement, although people were aware of it brewing. A significant investment in the port is needed. The company has made it quite clear that it will be looking to the cruise industry to contribute towards that investment if it is going to complete the necessary construction to bring numbers up from 160 to 200 liners. The company predicts confidently that it would be possible if the investment were forthcoming. I am also confident it is forthcoming because Ireland has a great future in this regard.

On cruise tourism, the Deputy asked about stakeholders. I have already asked the main stakeholders to come to a meeting in about two weeks' time to discuss the matter raised by the Deputy in the broader national interest.

Football Association of Ireland

Imelda Munster

Ceist:

2. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the engagement he has had with an organisation (details supplied) regarding compliance with the governance code for the community, voluntary and charity sector, as endorsed by his Department; the actions he plans to take to ensure good governance in view of recent financial irregularities at the organisation and recent changes in personnel; the oversight he has to ensure compliance; his views on the policy of potentially withdrawing funding, as previously stated by him in cases of non-compliance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15372/19]

What engagement has the Minister or his Department had with the Football Association of Ireland, FAI, on compliance with the governance code? What actions does the Minister intend to take to ensure good governance in light of recent financial irregularities at the FAI and recent changes in personnel? What oversight, if any, does his Department have to ensure compliance? Will he comment on his Department's policy of potentially withdrawing funding in cases of non-compliance, to which he referred previously?

Sport in Ireland is generally organised and governed by autonomous national bodies.  The governance of these national governing bodies of sport, NGBs, is a matter for the governing bodies. While the Government does not regulate sport, Sport Ireland is an independent statutory body whose functions include responsibility for governance oversight of NGBs.  All of the sporting bodies that are funded by Sport Ireland are required to comply with high standards of good governance, including appropriate financial oversight. Sport Ireland periodically reviews governance and oversight in the bodies it supports.

I have made it clear that all sporting bodies in receipt of public funding must take appropriate steps to adopt the governance code for the community, voluntary and charity sector. The Government’s National Sports Policy 2018-2027 recognises the importance of good governance for the effective and efficient running of sport and it includes an action that Sport Ireland will oversee a process to have all national governing bodies and local sports partnerships, LSPs, adopt the governance code by the end of 2021. I, the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, and Sport Ireland have made it clear that future funding for NGBs and LSPs will be conditional on compliance with the principles of the governance code.  After 2021, NGBs and LSPs that are not fully compliant with the code will be at serious risk of losing their Sport Ireland funding and will be required to explain their position.

While I have had no direct engagement with the association mentioned by the Deputy regarding its compliance with the governance code, at my direction, officials in my Department contacted the association to underline the importance of introducing maximum term limits for members of its board.  A decision on term limits was taken in early February at an extraordinary general meeting of the association and brought the association into compliance with one of the requirements of the governance code.  The association is not yet fully compliant with all of the requirements of the code.  In the current circumstances, I would welcome full compliance sooner rather than later.  Clearly, the recent media reports regarding the organisation have raised serious questions about governance and financial controls in the organisation. Sport Ireland is engaged with the organisation to clarify these matters and when the necessary clarifications have been received, Sport Ireland will report to me.

In the interests of due process and natural justice, it is important that Sport Ireland’s engagement with the organisation be given the necessary time to ensure that all matters are addressed thoroughly by the association.  I do not wish to comment today on any possible outcome from this ongoing process.  However, I can say that I will publish the material that I receive from Sport Ireland.  I expect to receive material from Sport Ireland this week and I will publish that material as soon as possible, most likely by the end of this week.

This is similar to a question I asked last month on the Department's role in ensuring compliance with the governance code. I put the question in light of the news that the Football Association of Ireland had just recently changed its rules to allow long-serving board members to remain in situ for an additional four-year term. Of the 11 members of the FAI board, seven have served more than 11 years, two have served more than 15 years and John Delaney, who was on the board, served 17 years, including 14 as chief executive officer. This clearly contradicts the governance code because the recommended term limit is nine years or three terms of three years.

I also ask the question in light of the recent financial irregularities which have come to light since I asked my question a month ago. The response of the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, at the time was that governance was a matter for the FAI and Sport Ireland and he had no engagement with the FAI regarding the code. He also said he understood that the FAI is on a journey to the adoption of the code. Given all that has recently come to light, that is one hell of a journey the association is on. Does the Minister stand over that response?

The Deputy knows I cannot possibly comment on current events because Sport Ireland is clarifying them and will report to me. As I said, I will release whatever material Sport Ireland sends to me to the Deputy and anyone else who wants it, hopefully by the end of the week.

As the Minister of State correctly informed the Deputy, Sport Ireland is responsible for governance. I understand the FAI has established a governance committee whose remit is to ensure the association is compliant with the code. The Deputy will know that on Monday, 4 February, members of the FAI ratified the introduction of eight-year term limits for board members. Sport Ireland understands this to be a maximum of two four-year terms. As part of the rule changes and in order to avoid an immediate loss of experience and expertise, it agreed that any board member who is a chairperson of a standing committee or the national league executive committee and who has served for more than ten years on the board may be re-elected for up to four years. Sport Ireland supports the adoption of the governance code and views the introduction of term limits for directors as an important step for all funded bodies on the journey and transition to adoption of the governance code by 2021. As I said, I would prefer if the FAI had been fully compliant by now but it will be fully compliant by 2021.

Last month, I also asked the Minister of State what authority he had to impose penalties in the event of poor governance and compliance. He did not answer that part of the question. I ask the Minister to take the opportunity to do so today.

The Minister referred to imposing penalties. If, for instance, the bridging loan of €100,000 is deemed to be in breach of the governance code on the basis that Sport Ireland was not informed, at what stage would the Minister consider imposing penalties? What must happen before the Minister will consider imposing penalties as this is not clear?

Is the Minister satisfied that Sport Ireland's oversight procedures are sufficient given that all of this happened while it was responsible for oversight and under its watchful eye, as it were?

I certainly cannot comment on part of what the Deputy said, as I made clear. The Deputy knew that when she asked me the question. I will not comment on any specifics.

For clarification, I asked the Minister about penalties.

If I may answer, I will not comment on any of the specifics of any issue currently being investigated by Sport Ireland or anyone else. That is out of the question. Sport Ireland has robust arrangements in place attached to the funding it provides to sporting bodies, including the Football Association of Ireland. As part of Sport Ireland's normal processes and procedures relating to the annual grant cycle, national governing bodies in receipt of grant funding are required to submit a copy of their financial statements. This must include a statement from their auditor that each grant was expended in accordance with the approved submission of the grant funding. An absolutely compelling case has been made over the years that funding should be held from any national governing bodies that are not abiding by the governance rules established for their particular category. That is a principle that we must keep to and we will do so. We are giving some of them, perhaps a large number of them, a little time to get their corporate governance into order. If they have not done so by 2021, funding should be withheld.

Light Rail Projects Status

Robert Troy

Ceist:

3. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the status of the MetroLink project; the date by which the project will be commenced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15462/19]

What is the current status of the MetroLink project? On what date will the project commence? When does the Minister expect long suffering commuters to be in a position to use the service?

As the Deputy will be aware, the National Transport Authority, NTA, published the MetroLink preferred route for public consultation on Tuesday, 26 March.

This reflects the NTA's and Transport Infrastructure Ireland's consideration of issues raised in the consultation period held last year on what was known as the "Emerging Preferred Route".

The Deputy has welcomed the publication of the new route and the fact that it addresses the majority of issues raised during last year's consultation period.

The new preferred route proposes a number of changes to the route as published last year and I hope people will take the time to consider the rationale behind those changes and engage with the public consultation process.

Of course, a key imperative in the MetroLink project has always been to deliver a new north-south cross city link and deal with the capacity issues on the Luas green line. The big change in the preferred route is the method by which the NTA and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, propose to deal with those issues.

The NTA-TII proposal is now to move forward immediately on two fronts: developing MetroLink from Charlemont to Swords and also completing the green line capacity enhancement project already under way. They now propose to defer the third element of the previous proposal, which is to tie-in the metro with the existing Luas green line and extend metro services southward along that line.

The Luas green line expansion programme, which is already under way, will see extended trams begin to arrive this year and will by 2021 see all 26 trams extended to 55 m and also introduce eight additional trams and increase capacity by approximately 37%.

It is also proposed incrementally to increase capacity further on the green line over the medium term so that it can handle around 11,000 passengers per direction per hour, which is an increase of approximately 70% from today. Then in the longer term, perhaps 20 years from today, the tunnelling work proposed to be completed now as part of MetroLink will facilitate a later tie-in with the green line.

I welcome the level and depth of public engagement with the project so far and commend the NTA and TII for the proactive way in which they have engaged with communities and the public at large. There is a series of further public information sessions planned for this round of public consultation, as well as a wealth of information published on the MetroLink website. I recognise also that there are still issues which require consideration and consultation with different groups and NTA-TIl are committed to doing just that.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

In so-called "megaprojects" like this, the importance of this period of front-end planning is well recognised internationally as being crucial to a project's overall success. I also think it important that we approach projects such as this in as open and transparent a manner as possible in order to deal with some of the misinformation and confusion which can arise.

In terms of timelines, this phase of consultation will end on 21 May and the NTA-TII will then finalise its business case for submission to my Department and ultimately the sanction of Government. They expect to apply for a railway order in Q2 next year and then, subject to planning, to move forward with construction during 2021.

This is the seventh proposed route since the original metro north was first unveiled as part of Transport 21 in 2005. I cannot hold the Minister, Deputy Ross, responsible for all of that.

There is scepticism out there as to whether this will ever be delivered. It is the fifth time there have been proposed changes in Deputy Ross's tenure. Is the route being designed around the Cabinet table or is it being designed by the NTA and TII because, during a Topical Issue debate a number of months ago, in response to two Government Deputies the Minister stated there would be no separation of metro north and metro south? Has a cost-benefit analysis been conducted for the most recent project which will see the metro stop at Charlemont? On what advice was this route change undertaken? Were other options, such as extending the route in the south-west direction, looked at? What impact will this have on the delivery of MetroLink? As I asked at the outset, when is construction of this project due to begin and due to end?

Maybe I could give the Deputy a timeline. First, this current consultation phase will run until the end of May. The NTA and TII will then work on finalising a business case for submission to the Government. The Government must then approve the business case before it can progress to planning. The NTA then expects a railway order application by the second quarter of 2020. A statutory consultation process will be held by the board and, dependant on planning etc., construction is hoped to start in 2021.

This was not designed around the Cabinet table. Deputies, Senators, councillors and Ministers are entitled to their opinions as they represent a large number of people, but there has been a public consultation going on at various times and at various stages of this project. Indeed, members of the public, as other representatives, are entitled to contribute to that. No doubt they have done so in an orthodox and regular way.

Construction is due in 2021. The Minister might be a little more specific, even in terms of which quarter in 2021.

I will ask again: has a cost-benefit analysis been conducted for the most recent iteration of the project. That is a simple "yes" or "no" question.

On what advice was the route change undertaken? Were external consultants brought on board in relation to this change? Are the NTA and TII both supportive of this recent change? Were other options considered, such as extending the route in the south-west direction?

There obviously have been considerations of the route in the south-west direction, by which I take it the Deputy means Rathfarnham, Terenure, Tallaght and that direction. Those considerations have been made on a thorough basis and the judgment has been made that there is not the population there to merit a Luas extension to there at present.

There are plenty of other candidates for Luas extension. There are plenty of others which are in the transport strategy as well which the Deputy would be aware of. They include the Luas green line to Bray, the Luas cross city to Finglas and the Luas to Poolbeg.

What of the cost-benefit analysis?

Certainly, the Terenure-Tallaght-Rathfarnham option is not one of those which is currently under active consideration.

On the issues the Deputy raised, he will find that, as I said, a business case will of course have to be made. When Deputy Troy asked me whether the 2021 date is something which I can be specific about, I obviously cannot be more specific about what time in 2021 because that depends on planning and other extraneous issues which are far beyond my control. I can assure the Deputy that it will be done in 2021-----

No cost-benefit analysis so.

I want to put some order on this.

-----and that is dependant on planning.

I ask Ministers and all Memebers to observe the clock.

Rural Transport Services

Michael Harty

Ceist:

4. Deputy Michael Harty asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if the tendering process used by the National Transport Authority in awarding contracts for rural transport to companies which are for-profit transport companies as opposed to non-profit community based companies (details supplied) will be examined; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15436/19]

My question relates to the awarding of tenders for rural transport to rural transport companies and whether the Minister will examine the tendering process to distinguish between companies which are for profit as opposed to those which are community based and not-for-profit, in particular, companies subcontracting their work out to for-profit providers.

As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport.

The National Transport Authority, NTA, has statutory responsibility for securing the provision of public passenger transport services nationally. It also has national responsibility for integrated local and rural transport, including management of the Rural Transport Programme, RTP, which now operates under the Local Link brand.

The NTA has advised that in 2018 it embarked on a process to procure transport co-ordination units, TCUs, branded as Local Link offices, to manage the contracted bus services funded under the RTP. The NTA's objective was to establish a process for the procurement of TCUs which is fully in line with all EU and national procurement requirements. The Deputy will appreciate that the procurement of TCU's was run by the NTA and I have no role in the process.

I understand that the existing TCU agreements were due to expire on 31 December 2018 and that the NTA concluded that new TCU agreements must be awarded pursuant to a competitive contract process. Under the procurement process, tenderers were permitted to tender for up to four lots out of a total of 20 lots.

The NTA has confirmed that it intends entering into funding agreements for the provision of transport co-ordination unit services to the preferred tenderers.

The NTA has also confirmed that this procurement process will cause no reduction or change in transport services. The impact of the process will be a change in the local level management of the services but not a change in the services themselves. The outcome will allow TCUs to plan for the longer term with greater certainty, as well as ensuring best value for money for public funds. Moreover, it will allow the NTA to define services required and continue to monitor performance in the delivery of those services, as well as protecting the NTA and the TCUs from any potential state aid issues.

The Deputy has specifically referred to for-profit and non-profit companies in his question. The NTA has confirmed that all companies performing TCU duties on behalf of the NTA over the 2014 to 2018 period were registered charities. The NTA has also advised that all the preferred tenderers to perform TCU duties on behalf of the NTA over the 2019 to 2022 period are also registered charities.

The issue of one of quality. Following the tendering process, Clare Accessible Transport has lost the contract and the transport co-ordination unit will now be transferred to west Limerick. The National Transport Authority has responsibility in this regard but my question relates to quality. As a result of awarding the tender to a Limerick company, a very successful model will be broken up; it is demonstrated as one of the most efficient in the country, according to the NTA's report from 2018. The transfer of the co-ordination unit to Limerick will reduce the quality of the service as it was a bespoke service that operated six days per week. A person could book transport one hour in advance and the system was very flexible, allowing buses to go to people's homes to pick them up. The service is 100% disabled-accessible but we are concerned that the transfer of the unit from Clare to Limerick will reduce the quality of the service and interfere with its flexibility. It will not lead to the betterment of patients and people in County Clare.

I thank the Deputy for his intervention. As a human being, I am absolutely sympathetic with what he says and as a representative I can understand his point of view. If he says quality has suffered, particularly with respect to accessibility with some of the buses, I regret that on a personal level. My understanding is this process is carried out by the NTA under European Union rules. As the Deputy knows, this procurement is something in which I cannot and will not interfere under any circumstances. On the other hand, I am perfectly happy to convey what he said to the appropriate quarters so they can be aware of it. As far as I know, the Deputy is not querying the process but rather the result. If he is querying the result, it is a somewhat different area.

I thank the Minister. If Clare Accessible Transport wishes to challenge the decision, it must go to the High Court. These are not-for-profit companies that do not have the resources to go to the High Court if they feel a service is going to be reduced. As I said, Clare Accessible Transport has integrated its transport co-ordination unit with the provision of service through its drivers. The quality of service provided by Clare Accessible Transport is above the national standard but the tendering process does not recognise that fact or that this integrated service is flexible and a community-based service that links with the HSE, disability services, hospitals and the people it transports. This delivers the bespoke service that is required but which is not being picked up in a tendering process. The flexibility and integration elements were not picked up in a tendering process, which is the difficulty for Clare Accessible Transport. It is also restricted in expanding its services. Although it has applied to the NTA to expand and develop new routes, it has had no response from the NTA in that regard. The quality of service and the expansion that it would like to bring about has not been recognised with the tendering process.

My understanding is the impact of the procurement process is not necessarily what the Deputy has said it is, although I do not doubt for a moment his bona fides. My understanding is that as a result of the procurement process, there is no change in the transport services, although there is a change in the management of services at a local level. The procurement service allows TCUs to plan for the longer term with greater certainty and it ensures best value for money for the public purse. It also allows the NTA to define services that are required and properly monitor performance and delivery of the service. It protects the NTA and the TCUs from potential state aid issues. It is an EU-specified procurement process and it must be respected as such. It should be pointed out as well that all the applicants were from not-for-profit companies but they could have come from for-profit companies as well.

Light Rail Projects

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

5. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the process by which he can direct the National Transport Authority to consider and develop alternative alignments for the metro southside. [15443/19]

I was listening to the Minister's discussion on metro south. I was very glad that last week the Taoiseach, in answering questions about the project, indicated that the Government would be willing to consider alternative route options, possibly including one to University College Dublin and Sandyford. I know representatives of the NTA, at a committee discussion of the matter last week, indicated it would require some sort of direction from the political system for it to activate that, as the authority is constrained by its regulatory system. It would have to wait for another review of the whole Dublin transport strategy, leading to a delay of two or three years, which we cannot afford. I am keen to find out how the Department and the Minister might be able to support that consideration of alternative alignments by assisting the NTA or giving direction that it may need to allow it in a timely manner.

I thank the Deputy for his question. The Deputy is aware of the current status of the MetroLink project both from my earlier answer and the briefing session the National Transport Authority arranged for Members last week. The Taoiseach was correct in that the project has a great deal of appeal and all projects should be considered if they appear sensible on the surface, although they must come under serious examination. There must be appropriate consideration in this regard.

I acknowledge the Deputy’s interest in improving public transport in the city and the country. Since publication of the emerging preferred route last year, the Deputy has been vocal in expressing his views and the views of some of his constituents about those initial proposals that had been put forward by the NTA. The views of everyone who made a submission to last year’s consultation process, all 8,000 of them, were carefully considered by the NTA and Transport Infrastructure Ireland and they informed the development of what is now known as the preferred route. Members of the public and in this House now have another opportunity to make their views known on this route and I encourage them to do so.

I have heard various metro routes proposed by people in recent months and I have no doubt more will be proposed in the coming weeks. However, proposals are sometimes put forward for areas where the population and transport demand levels now and in the future simply do not need metro levels of service: many areas, including those mentioned by the Deputy many times, can be very adequately served by other high quality public transport options that can be delivered at lower levels of cost and disruption.

It is well recognised internationally that transport planning, particularly of this city-region scale, cannot be undertaken on the basis of an individual Deputy's preferences or disparate ideas. It has to be rationally and logically planned with careful evaluation of the actual transport needs and the capacity required to meet those needs. The Deputy would appreciate this, having being involved with decisions of this sort. I know he supports such a process: he made similar comments in the House last week. It is why a previous Government with which he is not unfamiliar introduced the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008, which established what we now know as the NTA. It is why that Act requires the NTA to develop a 20-year transport strategy, covering all modes and the entire greater Dublin area. It is why that Act stipulates stringent requirements upon the NTA to consult the public, the Oireachtas and local authorities in developing that strategy. It is why that Act requires the draft strategy be submitted to the Minister to allow the Minister make his or her views known and, if necessary, amended before it is approved. The Deputy knows that the establishment of this statutory framework was long sought and long fought.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

I really fear we are trying to undo the hard-won progress that we have made in terms of strategic transport planning. I welcome the Deputy’s desire for better public transport and I share it. I do not, however, believe we serve the interests of anybody in attempting to up-end a carefully constructed strategic framework designed to look well into the future and plan our transport infrastructure needs. The Deputy’s ideas on different possibilities may well be worth consideration and that consideration will be given, but it must be given within the framework that exists.

When the NTA starts reviewing the transport strategy for the greater Dublin area, as it is obliged to do every six years, in accordance with the Act, all options are on the table. That review must be completed by 2021, so work will start during 2020 on it. Last week the Deputy in this House reiterated his desire not to hold up MetroLink and I share that desire. I also have no desire to interfere in the improvements that have been introduced, and which the Deputy supports, to how we strategically plan for our transport future.

What the Taoiseach referred to is a variation in the possible route for the metro on the south side. It is a variation in this sense. There is a real case to be made for Terenure-Rathfarnham but we can put that to one side because the Taoiseach has done so and concentrate on the UCD-Sandyford option because that has various characteristics. First, there is very high demand for transport. Second, it is a variation in the sense that it would address the long-term objective, which is already set out in the transport strategy, of upgrading the capacity capability of the green line. The Minister will know this more than anyone else because it is his constituents who will be discommoded if that was to be put back 20 years in respect of what the alternative possible approach would be now. I know the NTA is concerned and feels that under its legislative measures, it could not look at any variation because its statute requires it to do a full transport strategy and so on. That is why I asked the question. In respect of the Government coming to the view that there is something to be gained by not waiting 20 years to address that capacity issue on the green line and looking at the other routing because it also brings major transport benefits, from day one, it would see very high patronage and does not have any of the disadvantages referred to about low patronage areas. It could continue from where it is currently planned to stop with the far exit at Ranelagh on to Sandyford. There are about four stations and six km of routing that is ultimately doable. If the Government wanted to proceed with that, how would it suggest it?

All the routes suggested by the Deputy are worthy of debate. Any suggestions he makes are very worthy of debate in this House and they will go into the mix when the review commences. When it concludes, it can review the general transport strategy in a way the Deputy approved of thoroughly in the past. That is the system and process it will go through. In the meantime, the Deputy's favourite project, the south western Luas, has been looked at and a judgment has been made for the moment at least that this is not worthy and does not merit prioritisation in terms of the Luas at the moment because the population is not adequate to merit it being built and the expense. That does not mean that the Deputy should not suggest others and that they should not also be considered in the context of the review, which the Deputy knows is coming up. I would welcome him doing so because this will be soon and no doubt, the Deputy will be in power in 2021 when this comes into being.

I look forward to that day. The Taoiseach has ruled out that route alignment and has said explicitly that he sees sense in the UCD-Sandyford route, which I also see sense in. What I am saying is that rather than just leaving this process to continue, intervention from the Government is required if it believes that provides real benefits. It needs to consider what it must to do to assist the NTA to be able to look at that option so that rather than it being a two-phase process, when that tunnelling machine comes through and finally comes to rest in Ranelagh, as is currently proposed, it does not stop there but continues straight on towards Donnybrook, UCD, Stillorgan and Sandyford. In that way, it would bring a number of transport benefits, including the fact that we would be able to cope with the long-term growth on the green line. Does the Government have no responsibility to help progress that? I believe it does. It needs to work with the NTA or indeed other parties here if it believes it has sense and give the NTA the direction to do the modelling and assessment of that route option so it can be done in a timely manner.

Sometimes I find that what the Deputy has to say can be quite confusing. I assume he has now dropped that south western project he had in mind. I notice that he has abandoned it. That is all right then. I see nothing wrong with him dropping one project one week and taking up another project another week. It is somewhat volatile but he is entitled to be volatile in this business and to drop one project he has championed for a long time, to say it is no good and to accept the opinions expressed to us that his project was never a runner in the first place. That is fair enough so let us have more ideas from him. It would be very useful if he produced a large number of ideas on the transport strategy because we will have a review of that strategy. It is coming up in the next 18 months and will conclude in 2021. The Deputy will be able to have an input into that within the constraints to which he objected but which he was so prominent in setting up in 2008.