Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Drugs Crime

The people of Drogheda are very proud of their town and of their record on hospitality and the fact that this year Drogheda will again host Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann and hopefully have more than 600,000 people visit the town. We welcome in particular the additional gardaí provided to Drogheda by the Garda Commissioner. I also welcome the contribution of the Minister for Justice and Equality to the fight against the appalling drug crime war that has broken out in the town.

I pay tribute to Superintendent Andy Watters and Chief Superintendent Christy Mangan for their work on this matter.

The problem of drug related crime did not develop overnight. For some years I have been holding meetings locally with local voluntary bodies and Ministers. Of particular note is the fact that more than 40,000 needles were exchanged in County Louth in 2018, the last year for which we have numbers. There is a significant dependence on drugs, but in the middle of this very serious drugs crisis in Drogheda, we do not have a proper outreach service. The Red Door Project, which has an annual budget of €150,000, is at maximum capacity. There is a four-month wait before a person with a drug problem who wants to go into treatment is able to get a place, which is a serious issue.

I concur with Deputy O'Dowd. Drugs, criminality, antisocial behaviour, fraudulent activity and raids on the elderly and bank machines are all matters regularly dealt with by the Garda Síochána and are not unique to the north east in any respect. What is happening in Drogheda and other parts of County Louth is a microcosm of what is happening throughout the country. However, the situation has been exacerbated in Drogheda. Crime is a scourge on all our communities, but the focus is currently on Drogheda. Crime, particularly gun and knife crime, is becoming expected rather than exceptional. Public order offences are up 9% year on year and there is a growing sense of lawlessness on our streets. All one must do to realise that is to look at the front page headlines of this week's edition of two local newspapers, one of which states, "Tackle drug crime now". That is referring to Dundalk. It is not just Drogheda which is experiencing this problem and some rural villages and towns as far away as Dundalk are affected. It needs to be tackled. I wrote to Commissioner Harris on 18 November and have not received a response. I asked him and the Minister to meet the joint policing committees, JPCs, and all Oireachtas Members who represent the area.

The Deputy's time is up. I call Deputy Thomas Byrne.

I attended a protest held in Drogheda last Saturday. There is a sense of fear in Drogheda and east Meath of what might happen next. Although the Garda resources that are being allocated to Drogheda are welcome, new gardaí should receive appropriate mentoring and training to deal with this situation.

I wish also to draw the attention of the Minister to the situation in east Meath and the Ashbourne Garda district, which is adjacent to Drogheda. Unfortunately, counties Louth and Meath are in different Garda regions. I have raised with the JPC in Meath that there should be as much co-operation as possible and that any armed support for Drogheda would also be available to east Meath. On that note, I thank and pay tribute to the Garda for some work it did in the east Meath area today and yesterday which will yield results. This problem is causing significant fear and needs commitments that will be followed through on after the election as well as before it.

My understanding is that this Topical Issue matter concerns violence related issues in Drogheda. I ask the Ceann Comhairle to confirm that that is the case.

The situation in Drogheda is a microcosm of what is happening throughout the country.

I am acutely conscious of the serious concerns of the people of Drogheda. I totally condemn the disgraceful criminal behaviour and reckless violence committed by a small number of violent thugs in that area in recent times. In particular, I condemn the very serious issue of drug related intimidation which impacts greatly on our communities and society as a whole, especially families.

I am advised that An Garda Síochána and the national family support network have concluded separate evaluations of the drug related intimidation reporting programme and jointly agreed a number of actions in regard to the programme going forward. These include actions relating to training existing members and new recruits from An Garda Síochána, organising a conference for designated inspectors to share knowledge and experience relating to drug related intimidation, and holding a joint agency conference to include designated inspectors and agencies working in the drugs area. There will also be an internal programme of communication regarding the programme within An Garda Síochána, as well as external promotion of the programme through the media, external contacts and various forums. The national family support network will continue to run training in the field of drug related intimidation.

The implementation of the joint action plan is crucial to the overall response possible to the issue of drug related intimidation. Although the reporting programme was found to be effective in its current form, the jointly agreed action plan is designed to enhance the effectiveness of the programme through training, knowledge sharing and awareness raising.

As the Deputies may be aware, I visited Drogheda Garda station with Commissioner Harris on the evening of Thursday, 2 May and was briefed on the very important work of Operation Stratus, which was commenced in Drogheda in October 2018 to counteract this ongoing feud. I acknowledge the work of Chief Superintendent Christy Mangan and Superintendent Andy Watters. I am briefed daily by my colleague, Deputy O'Dowd, who is on the ground in the area on a 24-7 basis.

An Garda Síochána put Operation Stratus in place to prevent, detect and mitigate against any further escalation of violence between the groups involved. I am informed that the measures to strengthen this operation, which are being discussed within An Garda Síochána, will be highly effective. On Tuesday, 30 April, Commissioner Harris announced that he will appoint an additional 25 Garda members to Drogheda next month. The allocation of resources, including personnel, is a matter for the Garda Commissioner. I hope this influx of Garda members to the Drogheda area will go some way towards comforting and reassuring the citizens of Drogheda that their safety and that of their communities is a main priority for An Garda Síochána. The assistant commissioner with responsibility for the northern region is putting immediate arrangements in place for additional uniformed patrols to be conducted within the district, thereby providing reassurance to and within the community. These patrols will be supplemented by the emergency response unit from Dublin and supported by the regional armed support unit within the northern region. It is clear that this intelligence-led policing, involving many Garda units throughout the country, is yielding significant results. I commend An Garda Síochána on its tireless efforts in continuing to tackle drug related crime.

I welcome the additional supports to which the Minister referred which are to be provided by the Garda Commissioner. A related issue is that of CCTV in the Moneymore area. When the Minister visited the locality, we pointed out to him the issues in that regard. The CCTV is not his responsibility, but this area has been worst affected by much of this crime, and the CCTV there is still not working. The local authority is only now putting together a proposal to reinstate it. I will be meeting the manager tomorrow and I ask that the Minister and his Department do their best to fast-track the reinstatement of the CCTV. There is nothing more important than people knowing that a criminal walking the streets with a petrol bomb or other weapon will be captured on CCTV such that the Garda can act.

Last week, Deputy Breathnach was present when the very positive and hard-working community of Moneymore came forward with a proposal for a community centre. Some 800 young people under the age of 16 live in the area. They have no proper youth or community services. The community is at breaking point in terms of these demands and needs. We want additional childcare, after-school services, community intervention and more community workers. The total expected cost is approximately €2.5 million. I will put the proposal on the Minister's desk and ask that he assist in furthering it in any way he can.

I commend the most recent activity by the Minister. I wish to echo the words of Deputy O'Dowd, but I will try not to be repetitive in the short time I have. What is happening in Drogheda is a microcosm of the situation throughout the country. Although the problem may not get out of hand elsewhere to the degree it has in Drogheda, the Minister should watch this space regarding criminality. This is not about politics. It is about operating together. That is why I asked that the Minister and Commissioner Harris would meet local politicians and the JPC for us to get to grips with much of what is going on in the area. Innocent people are being intimidated in Dundalk, Dunleer and Clogherhead, as was acknowledged by Chief Superintendent Mangan.

I welcome any move to get more boots on the ground, but it is an interim measure. The Minister appointed an additional five gardaí to Dundalk. That has not been flagged, but it is great to see. As well as having a short-term plan, there need to be medium and long-term strategies.

The task force must be put in place 24-7 to target these criminals. As Deputy O'Dowd said, there should be greater resources to engage young people and ensure that they do not find their way into the criminal activity that is taking place in our region.

I again pay tribute to the Garda. The Minister appeared to take exception about Drogheda, but he should know that a significant part of the town is covered by the Ashbourne Garda district and a significant number of the criminals involved in this feud live in east Meath. It is a matter of serious concern for me, and I appreciate that it is a serious concern for the Minister as well. I am concerned about resources and the fact that the area is in two different regions. I received assurances from the chief superintendent in Meath that there is ongoing co-operation. I accept that and realise the Garda is doing its best, but the resources in Drogheda, which are extremely welcome and necessary, must be matched on the Ashbourne side as well. The Minister and the Garda Commissioner should assure themselves that full resources are available and that maximum co-operation is taking place to get the type of results that were achieved today and yesterday in the area. That will give people confidence that this is being addressed. In addition, as other Members said, there are the underlying issues that must be dealt with.

The Garda authorities advise that every effort will be made to disrupt the activities of these groups, arrest and prosecute offenders, and deny access to road networks to those involved. Liaison is ongoing with the relevant stakeholders, including Tusla, the HSE and the local authority. I welcome Deputy O'Dowd's meeting tomorrow. Every Member of the House wishes them well in their endeavours. I also acknowledge the support of Deputy Breathnach.

There were a number of successful targeted operations in respect of organised crime in the Drogheda region recently. There was a seizure of drugs worth €110,000 at Moneymore before Christmas. One person was charged in that regard. There was the discovery of three firearms and a consignment of drugs at Boyne Rovers FC in Drogheda last March. On 10 April, four residential properties were searched, one vehicle was seized for examination and a quantity of suspected cannabis and cocaine with an approximate value of €5,000 as well as a quantity of mobile telephones were seized. Three men were arrested in that regard. On 14 April, gardaí arrested four men in connection with the shooting incident that took place at M1 Retail Park in Drogheda in February. A number of premises were also searched in connection with this investigation. The shooting followed a number of incidents earlier this year that the Garda is actively investigating. On 22 April, An Garda Síochána discovered a handgun and nine pipe bomb components during a search of open ground at Moneymore. To date, 319 proactive searches have been carried out in the Drogheda area, along with 870 armed support unit and roads policing checkpoints and 1,253 proactive uniform and plain clothes patrols.

When dealing with complaints of drug related intimidation which may be linked to criminal activity and offering advice on the issue, An Garda Síochána makes every effort to afford the person or family subject to the threat the best level of security, advice, protection and support. The confidentiality and security of persons concerned are paramount for An Garda Síochána when dealing with reports of drug related intimidation and other reporting issues.

Crime Levels

A taxi driver was attacked and suffered serious head and facial injuries in Dublin last Monday night. He was attacked at 12.30 a.m. at Rutland Grove in Crumlin. The passengers took the driver's mobile telephone, a sum of cash and a dashboard camera. According to reports, as he lay injured, the gang members attempted to steal the taxi but failed to start it. They fled the scene on foot and four people were arrested following the attack. This was not a once-off occurrence but part of a spate of attacks on taxi drivers in recent weeks. More must be done to protect taxi drivers.

The latest attack on a taxi driver in Dublin comes just weeks after a video of a racist and violent attack on a taxi driver was shared online. That incident happened at 10 p.m. on Easter Sunday on the Malahide Road in Donnycarney in north Dublin and a man has handed himself into a north Dublin Garda station with regard to the attack. The Immigrant Council of Ireland has interviewed taxi drivers from various ethnic backgrounds and its report on the racist attacks noted that many of them happened while the taxi was in motion, putting the driver and passengers at risk. The number of physical attacks is also increasing. A 73 year old Dublin taxi driver was beaten up and pulled out of his car in Tallaght recently. He was stabbed and his car was later burnt out. Many other attacks go unreported.

Taxi drivers are increasingly frightened of going out to work. Many of them say they will not drive into certain estates in Dublin. I heard that at first hand from taxi drivers. They are being attacked and held at knifepoint. Their equipment is being stolen and there are attempts to rob them. Some taxi drivers have put a camera in the cab. Perhaps the Minister for Justice and Equality could examine ways of supporting the drivers. It is their place of work. I spoke to a taxi driver who told me that on two occasions he has had a syringe put to his throat. He ended up packing in the job, saying that it was not worth his life. That has an impact on his family.

No person should have to work in such a dangerous environment. The recent spate of attacks and violent robberies has led taxi drivers to avoid certain estates, and the ordinary, decent people who are living in these estates will suffer. There are reports of some gangs targeting taxi drivers through apps and based on their age and physical fitness levels. There must be a strong response from An Garda Síochána and the Government before there is a fatality.

Is the Minister aware of the problem? What response will there be to the attacks? Has the Minister spoken to An Garda Síochána about it? Is there a plan to deal with it? It is not just taxi drivers who are affected. There has also been a spate of attacks on drivers of delivery vans. The attackers target people who are vulnerable. Has the Minister talked to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport about this? Has he looked at how other jurisdictions safeguard taxi or cab drivers? There are different facilities in New York. There is a sign at the back of the taxi cab facing the passenger that states the fare and also that it is an offence not to pay the fare or to attack the driver and that the courts will follow through on it. I am seeking suggestions of what new things we can do in this regard. I realise that the Minister was dealing with another issue under the earlier Topical Issue matter and that it is all about resources. However, we must send a strong message to taxi drivers that we are listening to their concerns and we will respond.

I acknowledge the importance of this issue and thank Deputy Crowe for raising it. First, I acknowledge that taxi drivers can work in an environment that puts them at a higher risk of being attacked during the course of their work. There is no doubt that we should do as much as possible to protect them. Taxi drivers have highlighted the potential dangers of the job. They work alone, often at night and in isolated areas. They carry cash and, for the most part, they do not know their customers. Obviously, thousands of taxi journeys are taken each day and the vast majority conclude without incident, but occasionally taxi drivers will find themselves in unpleasant or even dangerous situations.

All taxi drivers, as part of their initial training and preparation for examinations, are provided with the Official Manual for Operating within the SPSV Industry. This manual is produced by the National Transport Authority in consultation with the Garda crime prevention unit and contains a chapter entitled Staying Safe. The chapter offers a range of information and suggestions on how to deal with difficult customers or dangerous situations that I encourage taxi drivers to be aware of and, where possible, put into action. This includes suggestions on taking extra care in isolated areas, making eye contact with the customer when the customer gets into the car, and arranging a code word with the dispatch operator or a colleague that can be used in communication with them if danger is perceived.

Information regarding ways to reduce the risk of robbery is also provided. An Garda Síochána has recommended that taxi drivers: avoid carrying large sums of cash where possible; do not show or tell customers how much cash they have and be discrete with their cash when giving a customer change; do not display valuables; and lock their vehicles while in isolated areas or waiting for a customer to arrive.

An Garda Síochána also advises that taxi drivers who have been the victims of robbery or fare evasion should not chase the perpetrators because this might put their personal safety at further risk. In addition, it is advised that taxi drivers should not take any action that might be deemed to be illegal or, again, put themselves at risk, such as detaining a passenger by force. The advice from An Garda Síochána to taxi drivers is to make contact immediately on 999 or 112 if they have been the victim of an assault, robbery or fare evasion and, if safe to do so, remain at that location until gardaí.

I am advised that An Garda Síochána is conducting full investigations into each recent case involving assaults on and robberies from taxi drivers. In such circumstances, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further while these investigations are ongoing. I acknowledge what Deputy Crowe stated. He has put forward a number of important suggestions. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, is beside me - he is here to deal with another issue - and I would be very happy to take on board his observations and submissions on this issue. It is important that we unite in this House and work with An Garda Síochána to ensure that taxi drivers and those engaged in that business are fully protected by the law.

The cost of insurance for taxi drivers has trebled in the past year. As well as the insurance issue, the situation is becoming much more dangerous for taxi drivers. Many people who do not have access to transport are reliant on the services of taxi drivers. I include in this those seeking to get to work. Taxis are not just used for social occasions, they are also used for vital purposes such as, for example, if a child is sick and has to go to hospital. It is important that we put in place the necessary supports for taxi drivers and that we stop these attacks.

I would like to hear from both of the Ministers that they will talk to each other to see if there are ways in which we can help the drivers. Will they also meet the drivers and their representatives to discuss the dangers they face and perhaps listen to their suggestions on what can be done? We have heard of apps which increase the safety of drivers and passengers. We have to examine those apps and the information they contain because they might also be a reason that people are targeted. The most important thing is to look at other jurisdictions. We are not alone; drivers and cab companies in other countries are also experiencing difficulties. We can learn from their experience. I am not proposing that we learn from jurisdictions where drivers are blocked off from passengers, but perhaps we could look at that as part of an overall safety review. Drivers should have the option to block off passengers, but that cannot be done at the moment. I appeal to both Ministers to sit down with the drivers and talk to them.

The Minister, Deputy Ross, and I speak on an almost daily basis in respect of this and other issues of importance. I want to make it quite clear that the type of criminal behaviour to which Deputy Crowe refers has no place in society and will not be tolerated. An Garda Síochána is very much alive to this issue, but that does not alter the difficulties it is encountering in trying to effectively tackle this form of crime. Taxi drivers operate in isolated areas or at night. They work alone and often carry cash in their vehicles. In that context, there is a certain amount of personal responsibility on taxi drivers to keep themselves safe. It has been suggested that drivers should consider the purchase of dash cams or CCTV systems to monitor the interior and exterior of their vehicles. A number of drivers already use such equipment. The footage from a CCTV system in the interior of the vehicle can help to identify any attackers. If the quality of footage is sufficiently high, it may be used as evidence in a court of law.

As the Deputy may be aware, the National Transport Authority is launching a new taxi driver respect campaign this month. This is a public awareness drive which advocates respect for taxi drivers. The campaign illustrates that taxi drivers can be anybody, including a friend or a family member. As such, they deserve our full respect. The campaign will include print media and bus shelters, as well as information disseminated via other media outlets. I hope this campaign, aligned with the Government's commitment to increase Garda numbers and visibility, will lead to a reduction in the number of assaults and robberies involving taxi drivers in the near future.

Road Traffic Legislation

At lunchtime, Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan and I accepted a petition from 11 carriage drivers who came down from Merrion Road. They gave it to us in order that we might hand it to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. Councillors Cieran Perry and Deirdre Heney accepted a petition from the same carriage drivers to hand to the CEO of Dublin City Council. The letter is entitled "Dublin City Council control of horse-drawn carriages by-laws 2011", and states:

Dear Minister Ross,

We, the undersigned, refer to the above Bye-laws and to Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan's Parliamentary Question to you on 6 November 2018, wherein you were asked "your views as to whether the laws relating to horse-drawn vehicles and-or carriages are in need of review and strengthening".

It also states:

As you are aware, there is a "legal lacuna" with regards to the Bye-laws. It is our understanding that Dublin City Council had no basis to make bye-laws for the regulation of horse-drawn carriages and that primary legislation may need to be repealed or amended.

It further states:

We are professional carriage drivers and owners, operating under licence from Dublin City Council. However, as of September 2018 our Carriage Driver Licences and Carriage Licences have expired ...

In your response to the Dáil to Deputy O'Sullivan on 6 November 2018, you advised that you would "ensure that this matter is given due consideration". We would be obliged if you could resolve the legal situation as a matter of urgency.

We are calling on you ... to repeal the Victorian legislation to enable Dublin City Council to draft new, improved and enforceable bye-laws, that ... assess the driver, carriage, horse and harnessing, providing a safe and professional service to customers ...

A representative of the Carriage Owner/Drivers would be happy to meet with you to discuss further.

We look forward to hearing from you in the near future.

The Minister is familiar with this issue. He stated that neither he nor his Department were aware of this issue last November, but that is almost five months ago. He agreed to meet the stakeholders. These people are just asking for the Minister to sit down with them in order to discuss the issue.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. She is absolutely correct to state that this is the second time in six months it has been raised. It is being addressed. She is also correct to state that it should be addressed as a matter of great urgency. I note that she has a petition; I am happy to receive it and respond to it in a manner which shows the need for action on the issue.

As the Deputy may know, some local authorities develop by-laws to licence commercially operating horse-drawn carriages. Local authorities set their own rules and stipulations to govern such operations by means of by-laws. Part 19 of the Local Government Act 2001 provides local authorities with the power to make by-laws. Part 19 also provides a general power to a local authority to make by-laws in respect of its own properties or services or to regulate matters of local concern. Section 199(1) of the 2001 Act provides that "a local authority may make a bye-law for or in relation to the use, operation, protection, regulation or management of any land, services, or any other matter provided by or under the control or management of the local authority, whether within or without its functional area or in relation to any connected matter."

It is under this Act that local authorities can choose to regulate horse-drawn carriages that operate for hire or reward.

In most counties there seems to have been little demand and by-laws are not in place. In other areas, the matter is more relevant. For example, in Kerry, where there is a long tradition of jarvey operation, by-laws have been adopted to regulate the operation of these horse-drawn hackney carriages.

In February 2011, the city council took over responsibility for the licensing of horse-drawn carriage operators and drivers from the Garda carriage office. Dublin City Council made by-laws in the same year for the licensing of horse-drawn carriages. They made these by-laws under the Local Government Act 2001. As the Deputy will be aware, my Department has had sight of a note prepared by the Dublin City Council law agent giving the view that Dublin City Council has no legal basis to make such by-laws. The note indicates that such powers may instead still rest, under the Dublin Carriage Acts 1853, 1854 and 1855, with the Dublin Metropolitan Police Commissioners, in respect of whom the Garda Síochána is successor. Since this older Dublin-specific legislation was not repealed, powers for licensing horse-drawn carriages in Dublin still exist in statute. This means Dublin City Council is unable to make by-laws under the 2001 Act in this respect. By-laws may not be made under that 2001 Act where powers exist elsewhere in legislation.

While I am currently of the view that these matters should normally be managed at local government level, I have requested that the matter be given due consideration by my Department. I have requested, as I promised to Deputy O'Sullivan in reply to her question last time, that my Department engage with An Garda Síochána and Dublin City Council and seek separate legal advice if that is deemed necessary. Depending on the outcome there may be a requirement to amend or repeal legislation to ensure an appropriate, modern regulatory framework is in place.

Separately, I understand concerns have also been raised relating to animal welfare issues. The Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013 provides powers to gardaí and authorised officers to deal with issues of animal welfare. Furthermore, the Control of Horses Act 1996 provides for local authorities to grant horse licences to those wishing to own a horse, thus entitling them to keep the horse in a control area. The Act provides that a horse licence shall not be granted to any person under the age of 16 years. Legislation of this nature comes within the ambit of my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

As with all vehicles used on a public road, the drivers of horse-drawn carriages are responsible for behaving in a safe manner and for paying due care to other users.

The letter and petition have been drawn up by professional carriage drivers and owners who were operating under license from Dublin City Council. They want to be part of a system that is legal. They want to know that they are covered under the by-laws. It has been six months since Deputy O'Sullivan raised this matter. The Minister's reply to Deputy O'Sullivan stated that he would ensure the matter would be given due consideration. This would include further engagement with An Garda Síochána, Dublin City Council and others mentioned by the Deputy, including the carriage drivers and My Lovely Horse Rescue, a group involved with the carriage drivers. They are trying to bring in horse welfare measures that are robust.

If the 1853, 1854 and 1855 Acts are repealed quickly then we can enable the council to bring in the by-laws or else introduce measures under the Road Traffic Act 2016 to allow the NTA to take over this area. The Minister must move on this. These people have been in a lacuna since September of last year. They want to be responsible and encourage other carriage drivers to be responsible and to look after their horses as well. This is not about animal welfare - these drivers look after their horses.

The Minister referred to other Acts including the Animal Health and Welfare Act and the Control of Horses Act. Those Acts are highly questionable because they are not implemented and a great deal of work remains to be done around them. Will the Minister meet representatives of My Lovely Horse Rescue and the carriage drivers to talk to them about what needs to be done and what the Minister will do about this?

The Deputy is making a fair point and I think something has to be done about this. It probably should have been done a little sooner. The Deputy will understand that there were other distractions in recent months which probably meant it was not at the top of the priority list. If this is not addressed shortly, I intend to let the Deputy know. It is my intention to consider whether we need a small tranche of legislation to repeal the Victorian legislation that gives the Garda Síochána powers for licensing horse-drawn carriages in Dublin. Once that is done, Dublin City Council can license these carriages under the Local Government Act 2001, as can other local authorities. We intend to use the taxi regulation (amendment)(rickshaw) Bill 2018 to do this. The Department has this week been assigned a drafter for the Bill. We will be engaging with An Garda Síochána and the City Council as part of this process. I intend to move on this as rapidly as the taxi regulation (amendment)(rickshaw) Bill 2018 moves. I intend to move to introduce the taxi regulation (amendment)(rickshaw) Bill 2018 as soon as possible.

Urban Renewal Schemes

I thank the Minister of State for being here. I live in Newbridge, which is a fine town. I imagine the Minister of State has been there several times. It has a population of close to 29,000 and the figure is growing. There has been significant growth and development in recent years but unfortunately the town has been overlooked in respect of putting in place the necessary infrastructure and services. While the town has many challenges, this particular challenge of a second bridge is one that I wish to highlight.

At peak times the traffic delays and congestion are significant and impact negatively on the lives of people. I put it to the Minister of State that a second bridge is vital not only for the future development of our town but also for what is going on currently. The traffic into and leaving town is ever-increasing. We have only one main bridge, which was built in 1930, over the River Liffey. The bridge causes a major build-up throughout the day.

Newbridge is an excellent destination town for retail with local independent shopping and the Whitewater Shopping Centre and Newbridge Silverware. People come there from all over the country.

The part of Newbridge where this particular bridge is situated is the only way that Newbridge can be accessed. There are almost 6,000 people living there. There are five schools with 3,000 pupils and teachers. There is a church and crèches as well as a doctor's office etc. One can only begin to imagine what it is like with five schools congested in an area and only one bridge. The other 22,000 people do not live on the Dublin side of the bridge and they are trying to get through the town and over the bridge to get to the schools. Equally, we have the 6,000 people trying to come in to the town. We have people trying to leave Newbridge to get onto the M50 motorway or the Dublin dual-carriageway. Others want to get to Naas, where our council offices are located and where many people can access employment.

Lidl has its head office in Newbridge and is currently building its main distribution centre on the outskirts of the town. Pfizer is continuing to grow, with staff numbers growing year after year. All of this is beneficial and the associated employment is welcome and important. However, I fear that the lack of a second bridge will catch up on development and obstruct future growth.

Kildare County Council has prioritised this as the main infrastructure project for south Kildare, together with another bridge in Celbridge. These are the two main focuses for Kildare County Council.

Funding was applied for under the urban regeneration and development scheme to construct a 1 km long road, including a new bridge over the River Liffey that would link the Great Connell Road and Athgarvan Road. This would be a significant benefit and bonus. Unfortunately, the application was turned down. I hope the Minister of State has good news with regard to a new bridge. It is estimated that building such a bridge would cost approximately €15 million. I accept that the latter is not an insignificant amount, but a new bridge would be very important and would greatly benefit all of those who need to cross into and out of Newbridge daily, often more than once.

I thank Deputy O'Loughlin for raising this issue. I am glad to have the opportunity to discuss the support available under the urban regeneration and development fund, URDF, which is one of the funds that might be open to fund a scheme such as that to which she refers. I am conscious that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport just left but the Deputy might want to raise this issue with him too because it is important that it should be dealt with on a cross-departmental basis. A project such as this is not just for one Department. We have a fund which is suitable for projects of this nature and Kildare has already availed of the opportunity to make an application to that it.

The URDF is a flagship element of Project Ireland 2040, comprising an allocation of €2 billion in the National Development Plan 2018-2027, with €58 million available in 2019 and an overall Exchequer allocation of €550 million earmarked for the fund up to the end of 2022. The URDF was established to support more compact and sustainable development, through the regeneration and rejuvenation of Ireland's five cities and the many other large towns in line with the objectives of the national planning framework and the national development plan. This is about sustainable development, encouraging sustainable development of town centres and making them more pleasant places to live. Exactly as the Deputy described, Newbridge is probably similar to the town in which I live, Navan, with congestion at crossings and development over a number of years giving rise to pressure on existing crossings, meaning that infrastructure needs to be upgraded.

The work we are trying to fund through the URDF is to enable a greater proportion of residential and mixed use development to be delivered within the existing built-up footprints of our cities and towns and to ensure that more parts of our urban areas can become attractive and vibrant places in which people can choose to live, work, invest in and visit. If somewhere is a nice place to live in, one will be able to create more jobs with investment to service the needs of the people who are already living there. Many people in Kildare and Meath have to leave their homes and travel long distances to work. We are trying to encourage more jobs to be created beside them and to make the towns more attractive too.

Bids were invited from public bodies for further funding under the URDF and 189 applications were received by my Department under the first call for proposals. On 26 November 2018, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, announced initial URDF support of €100 million for 88 projects around the country. The applications received contained a wide variety of themes and sectoral areas from urban regeneration and public realm works to enabling strategic infrastructure such as bridges to leverage further development, as well as cultural and amenity development. Applications received fall into two categories, namely, projects that are ready to go and funding to support the initial development of projects, including master planning and feasibility, to ensure a pipeline of projects for the future that may be funded by our Department or the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. As part of this first call, Kildare County Council submitted seven proposals and was awarded initial URDF support for four. Four of the proposals submitted by Kildare County Council related to a link road from Great Connell Road to Athgarvan Road in Newbridge. However, this proposal was not awarded URDF support as part of the first call.

The Deputy mentioned Celbridge. It was awarded funding. The proposal is progressing through part B, which is to develop feasibility and bring different stakeholders and players together. My Department is continuing to engage with successful applicants, in the case of Celbridge and others in Kildare, from the first call on the advancement of their proposals. Once that process is complete, my Department will complete its review of the first call, after which a second call for proposals will be announced later in the year. The Deputy asked if I brought good news with me. I certainly cannot say I brought the chequebook, so I will have to check on the position. There will be a second chance to apply for funding. Every applicant that did not succeed had engagement with our Department. The local authority in Kildare had engagement with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government about its application, where it went wrong and what it needs to do to make a new application. Kildare County Council can consider further projects and applications. That will be open for it in the near future.

I guarantee that Kildare County Council will submit another proposal for funding with the full support of all the councillors. Not having a second bridge is a significant hindrance to the growth and future development of the town. The Minister of State talks about the plans that are there. We have to obtain national funding to build this bridge. Kildare County Council has sought funding for it. The Minister of State must acknowledge the negative impacts that this will have on future plans for Newbridge. There is a proposed traffic management plan from the National Transport Authority in respect of which submissions have been received. I am concerned because I am of the view that far more radical changes than those which have been proposed are needed in order to improve matters regarding the build up of traffic. What is proposed will not work without a second bridge. We could have investment in respect of the traffic flow within Newbridge. The traffic is chaotic at the best of times. We need a strategic, long-term plan to deal with possible increases in housing and attractions to our town. That cannot be done without a second bridge. Another smaller bridge in the area, Sexes Bridge, is a prime example of the need for adjustment. The area has been developed significantly, yet the only changes to this bridge were to add traffic lights and a footpath.

The regional spatial and economic strategy for the eastern and midland regional plan is close to the Minister of State's heart. The report on submissions was released earlier this month and it was felt that Newbridge should not be listed as a key town. Newbridge is the fifth largest town in the mid-eastern strategic planning area and it is the only large town of the ten largest towns in the mid-east area that is excluded as a key town. We are a dynamic town. We are on a main rail line with good connectivity to the wider hinterland. I cannot help but feel that the lack of a second bridge is impacting on decisions such as this. While Newbridge is thriving now, it needs a lot of extra support. Future population and economic growth will not continue without a second bridge.

It is open to the Kildare local authority to make another application in the future. We have had engagement about why it did not succeed in the first instance. Four out of seven projects did. The Deputy stated that it got four out of seven priorities, which is quite good compared to other counties. I am trying to match good quality planning with infrastructure under this fund. The whole-of-Government approach in the context of Project Ireland 2040 is that we should invest in infrastructure because this will encourage greater investment and quality of life in many areas. It will also make up for a lack of infrastructure in the past due to bad planning, where we had thousands of houses built in many counties, but no infrastructure provided to service them. As we roll out the next round of development and recognise that there will probably be an additional 500,000 houses built over the next 20 to 25 years, we want to do that in a planned and co-ordinated way. We have asked all the regions that use the national development plan to put in place three regional plans and to bring that down to county level too.

There were concerns about the different population growth targets in the regions which I think have been addressed since the draft. People are very happy in Kildare, Meath and Wicklow that the right population targets in place. They will encourage more housing construction along with job creation and such. It will not be as it was in the past, with houses with no jobs. That will change and that will mean there will have to be investment in infrastructure in towns in a timely manner. We asked that we would focus on the county town concept in every local authority. Newbridge is not the county town of Kildare. My understanding is that is probably why it was not named the county town. The Deputy makes a good argument that all towns should be considered. As the regional plans are taken down to a county town level, there will naturally be a plan for each town that will set out its strategy for the years ahead. We recognise Kildare as a county that will grow. It will need more houses. That needs to happen in a planned, co-ordinated way.

The Deputy and I have both seen many cases where places have been allowed to grow without the proper infrastructure, whether services, investment in education, hospitals, roads or whatever it takes. Very often, transport infrastructure is a key part of that too. We are determined that, if we work with local authorities properly, the right resources will be allocated to the areas that need it to deal with development for the past and also for the future, which we are trying to do with the long-term thinking in Project Ireland 2040. There will be plenty of opportunity to deal with this in the context of the applications. If everyone does their homework right, I have no doubt that there is every reason there could be a successful application in the future. We do not judge them. It is not me or the Minister, there is an independent body with all the expertise to make the call on whether applications are successful.