Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

Impím ar na Teachtaí go léir cloí leis na srianta ama. Please stick to the time.

D'inis an tAire Sláinte dúinn sa Dáil inné go bhfuil idir 1,000 agus 3,500 duine ag taisteal isteach go hÉirinn achan lá. An tseachtain seo caite, tháinig 10,500 duine isteach trí Aerfort Bhaile Átha Cliath amháin. Tá muintir na tíre glasáilte taobh istigh de shrianta 5 km agus ag an am céanna tá daoine ag teacht isteach ar saoire chun na tíre gan chosc agus gan bhac. Níl plean an Rialtais maidir le coraintín éigeanteach fada go leor agus tá sé sin soiléir. Ní maith ar bith leithjab a dhéanamh agus coraintín in óstáin a chur ar fáil go héigeanteach do chúpla duine as cúpla tír ar fud na cruinne. Tá Sinn Féin ag rá leis an Rialtas go soiléir go gcaithfidh coraintín éigeanteach in óstáin a bheith ann d'achan duine atá ag taisteal isteach go hÉirinn gan cúis riachtanach.

Yesterday, the Minister for Health told the Dáil that approximately 1,000 to 3,500 people are arriving through Irish airports each day, with approximately 10,500 people arriving into Dublin Airport alone last week. Most right-thinking people would find these figures concerning and disturbing in view of the great sacrifices many have made during the past year, particularly in recent months. It makes no sense to people that they cannot travel beyond 5 km yet those who travel to Ireland on their holidays can arrive in the State virtually unimpeded. That is the policy the Government intends to pursue with the legislation before the House and that it will press ahead with this afternoon. The Government intends to introduce mandatory hotel quarantine for arrivals from 20 countries, only two of which, it should be noted, have direct flights to Ireland. Rather than taking any meaningful action to prevent the importation of new strains or variants, the Government is putting in place a system that we know is unfit for purpose. This is absolutely bizarre and unacceptable. There is no urgency or meaningful action. In fact, this is a dereliction of the Government's duty.

The Minister for Transport bears responsibility for this. I am sure the Minister will respond by stating that new countries can be added to the so-called red lists and so on. On what grounds would they be added? Once a cluster of Covid-19 or a new strain develops in a given country, we know that the virus spreads before it is identified. The Government approach amounts to locking the stable doors after the horses have bolted. What is the logic in this approach? I cannot get my head around it.

The Government has a choice today. Amendments have been tabled. I am sure the Minister is aware of the amendments Sinn Féin has tabled. We want to work constructively. We want a system that works and that ensures the best protection for the people. One of our amendments is to ensure that anyone coming to the State, irrespective of which country he or she is travelling from, will be subject to mandatory hotel quarantine. We are of the view that such quarantine should apply to all non-essential travel. That is what is needed. That is what the people want. Will the Government accept the amendment, particularly as the system it is proposing will not work?

Mandatory quarantine in one's home is farcical and unenforceable. The Minister said last weekend that gardaí are already carrying out checks at people's homes to ensure they were quarantining after returning from abroad. Yet, the general secretary of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, Antoinette Cunningham, stated on RTÉ radio yesterday that her members do not have a clue what the Minister was talking about. She said that there has been no consultation, guidelines or operational instructions in respect of that role. Can the Minister respond to that? This is a holy mess. If gardaí do not have an idea about what they are supposed to be doing, how can anyone else have one? The only proper way to deal with this is to ensure mandatory hotel quarantine for non-essential travel. Will the Minister accept the reality that this is what is needed?

We agree on this: we have to reduce right down the volume of people travelling in and out of this country and to restrict and stop non-essential travel. That is what we are doing and what the Garda Síochána is doing. As I understand it, the Minister for Justice will have all the details in terms of those being fined at our airports for doing exactly that. The latter is a clear signal that this is not simply advisory. We are saying that there should not be any non-essential travel. Where people do come, I believe it is appropriate to set up the hotels under the legislation that just completed Second Stage. The legislation caters for those coming here from the designated countries to which the Deputy referred and makes provision for those travelling from other countries to quarantine at specific houses. That is the approach we are going to take.

In the case of people coming in without providing polymerase chain reaction, PCR, tests, gardaí are checking on them in their homes. This does not happen in every case because the Garda authorities have make decisions on how to use and deploy resources. A Garda spokesman confirmed last night that this is what is being done. I expect the Minister for Justice will also ensure that the resources are deployed. I believe it is appropriate to do what gardaí are doing. They are doing a really good job at Dublin Airport and elsewhere. Several thousand fines have been imposed on people who are not abiding by the guidance and rules that are in place.

The Deputy seemed to criticise us and indicate that we may adjust the rules depending on health advice, but it is health advice that we are following. We are following the best advice from the World Health Organization, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and our national health authorities. I heard Mike Ryan address a conference organised by the Royal Irish Academy some weeks ago. When asked whether we could simply stop everything in terms of travel and whether it would work, he said "No" and indicated that the focus should be on acting fast where variants of the virus are identified and scaling up the genome sequencing testing, which the Government has done. We are now meeting the European standard whereby 10% of all PCR cases tested are checked for genome sequencing. This follows World Health Organization and European advice. Similarly, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control set out its advice on the Monday before last and we are following that pretty much to the letter.

I am of the view that what I have outlined is appropriate. It is particularly appropriate in our circumstances because there are two jurisdictions on this island. That gives rise to certain considerations in terms of how we manage travel. I believe the approach we have taken whereby we are working with the UK Government is appropriate. We are taking this approach because we do not have a Northern Ireland counterpart with devolved powers in respect of travel. We are working in co-operation on the basis of a two-island strategy which allows us to minimise risk. The UK authorities are following a similar strategy to ourselves. It is not exactly the same, however. In that context, different health authorities will identify different countries or different risks. The two strategies are similar and have similar back-up rules in terms of fines and so on. I believe the approach being taken is appropriate as we roll out the vaccines.

One thing is absolutely clear, and I agree 100% with Deputy Doherty on it. The large amount of travel taking place for non-essential services has to stop. That is why gardaí are outside the airports issuing €500 fines. We have to police this and ensure that anyone who comes in without a PCR test is checked up on. This is done on the basis of random checks on people in their houses. It is one of the series of measures we need to put in place.

We should call a spade a spade. Mandatory quarantine in a person's home will not work. It is not quarantine. Garda sergeants and inspectors have come out and said they do not know what the Government is talking about. This is what Garda sergeants and inspectors are saying when the Government claims this is being followed up on and that there is a robust system in place, when everybody and their dog knows there is not. We are an island nation. We have an opportunity to do our best to support the efforts that are happening in the community, valiant efforts by people who are making huge sacrifices. Since as far back as May of last year, we have been asked to remove the discretion in relation to international travel and the Government has failed to implement it. We must ensure every person who comes into this island for non-essential travel should be subject to mandatory quarantine. That is something which is within our gift. Can we ensure new variants stay out? No, we cannot but we can do our damnedest to ensure we do everything in our power. Will the Government finally accept the wishes of the Opposition and of the Irish public and do the right thing by introducing mandatory hotel quarantine for all non-essential travellers?

My understanding is that what we are actually doing now is very similar to what was in that letter from back in May of last year. It applied to non-residents of Ireland. The traffic coming in and out of Dublin Airport is mainly Irish residents. There is hardly any traffic coming out of any of the other airports, or indeed seaports: it is down to nil pretty much. I understand that back in May of last year the health authorities were suggesting a very similar approach to what is being taken, namely that non-Irish residents, travellers from the rest of the world, would have to have a designated place to quarantine. For those countries where there is a risk of the variant - it is for the health authorities to identify those - that will be a hotel, in other cases it will be the designated spot they provide in their passenger locator form. On the question of speed, since the variant became an issue just before Christmas, we immediately stopped all international travel from the UK initially as it was the high-risk area, we immediately put in place the requirement for a PCR test before anyone comes here and we have worked in absolute lockstep with the health authorities and with NPHET to implement the category 2 designations. We are completely at one with the health authorities on the management of this.

The new plan to deal with Covid was announced on Tuesday and we face a minimum of another six weeks in lockdown. The expectation was that by the end of February we would be down to between 200 and 400 cases per day but it is much higher. The strategy announced for reducing the numbers appears to lack a strategy and relies instead on people doing more of the same. People are losing hope. They are dejected and increasingly feel the Government is not in control, that there is a half-hearted approach, a pat on the head and to keep to the level 5 strategy. It is not convincing people. People are openly saying this is the worst Government we have ever had at a time when we need a Government to pull together. We can see, for example, that there is a spike in the case numbers among 18 to 24 year-olds. Is there even a public information campaign planned? We can see there are still problems in the meat plants. What is happening? What is the Government doing to address that as part of a strategy around workplaces?

We were recently told by the Taoiseach that there was going to be a scaled-up track and trace system that would look back 14 days. When the system nearly collapsed last October the Tánaiste told us that a track and trace system only works when the numbers are low enough. The Government must tell us what case numbers we need to get to in order to have a track and trace system that is effective and looks back 14 days. Poor communication is not just about mixed messages, contradictions and a whole lot of things like that - it is also about what we are not being told.

We need to see an actual roll-out plan for the vaccine as well. I know it depends on supply, but surely there is an indicative plan, a wall planner, showing on a weekly and monthly basis who gets the vaccine and when. Surely there is a personnel plan showing how many people we need and what locations they are needed in. Is the Minister satisfied and has he seen that plan himself? After the track and trace system last year, I want to see the plan. I want to see it so I can believe it. I am sure the public want to do the same.

On what happened over Christmas with the UK variant, it was here before it was identified. The levels of the virus in the UK, particularly in England, were huge before the variant was identified. There is now a variant in California which is rapidly spreading. People are not convinced by the half-hearted quarantine system that is being introduced as an emergency measure at a snail's pace.

Will the Minister tell me what numbers would be needed to have an effective track and trace system in place? Is there a comprehensive indicative plan? Has the Minister seen it? Will the Government publish it?

I thank the Deputy.

What strategies are the Government taking to drive down infection levels in the cohort I mentioned?

I thank the Deputy.

Finally, is the Minister honestly telling us that the AGSI is telling porky pies?

I thank the Deputy.

Is the Minister is honestly telling us that that rank, that organisation-----

We are over time, Deputy. I call on the Minister to respond.

I did not comment directly in response to that. I think An Garda Síochána did and I will let it speak on Garda operational matters.

The Deputy made various points about testing and tracing. We get pretty much weekly updates from the special Cabinet subcommittee on Covid. On Monday this week we met with the Deputy CMO, Dr. Ronan Glynn, Mr. Paul Reid, Prof. Brian MacCraith and various other officials who set out what is the latest situation. I am relating what I hear at those meetings. The Deputy was absolutely right, as was the Tánaiste, about how when cases go above a certain level it becomes very hard to do the contact tracing in an effective way. It becomes so widespread they cannot drill down to check back on every single thing and follow through. We are now back to numbers where that is possible. As I understand it there are 900 people working flat out - they are flat out, they are probably worked to the bone and it has been tougher for them than for anyone over the last year. People in the health system in general have been working flat out. The tracing teams are very good at it and are following every case.

I heard on Monday that there is a significant percentage of cases, up to about a quarter, where they are finding it difficult to trace what exactly the contact is. This is not because of any flaw in their system but there is still reasonably widespread community transmission. It seems the characteristics of the new variant are such that it is very easily transmitted in a way that is not easy to do tracing. I understand a close contact is someone a person has been in close conversation with for 15 minutes or in a room with for two hours. There seems to be some incidence of transmission with the new variant where somebody outside that close contact still transmits it and that makes it difficult for the tracers to pursue it. However, there is no shortage of resources or effort in the contact tracing system we have. At that Monday meeting there was real concern about whether there was a plateauing of the numbers. We should never take just one or two day's numbers. We must look at the five-day average and the 14-day average. Thankfully, in the last two to three days, we have seen the positivity rate come down before 5% for the first time, to 4.6% and then 4.32% yesterday. If we can keep that down then we will have further capability to focus really tightly on where the UK variant which is dominant here is.

On the roll-out plan for the vaccine, I want to stand up for our public service and our health service in particular as they have been thrown three incredible challenges in recent weeks. The volume of vaccines we have available to us is obviously set by an EU system. The first significant challenge our health system had to address was because the system was under such stress and risk, we switched the whole vaccination programme to put front-line health workers first. That was an appropriate decision.

I thank the Minister.

Second, there was the recommendation that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines be used on older people. The third challenge was because of the AstraZenenca numbers dropping below-----

Thank you, Minister.

In each instance, they have been incredibly flexible. They will set out a roadmap.

We are way over time. I thank the Minister.

The Minister is telling the House about what "they" are doing. Has he seen an actual roll-out plan? Has he seen a wall planner detailing, week by week, the various cohorts that will be vaccinated? I understand that any plan has to be indicative and I understand about the supply-side issue. Has the Minister seen the work planner in respect of the recruitment and locations that will be a counter-balance when we get decent supplies in? Has he seen any of that? Has the Government actually seen that or is it just taking on faith what it was told? We were told last year that we had a track and trace system but that system nearly collapsed in October. I want to know whether there is an actual plan that has been worked through in a detailed format and whether the Government has seen it. Can the Minister tell us whether that is the case?

On the issue of the track and trace system, I heard a Government Deputy speaking on Second Stage of the Health (Amendment) Bill 2021 this morning bemoaning the fact that there was only a 24-hour look-back. The Minister is telling us that it is possible to do a two-week look-back but a Government backbencher stated that there is only a 24-hour look-back.

I thank the Deputy.

Is there a 14-day look-back? Will the Minister give us the numbers that need to deliver an effective-----

Deputy, please. Thank you. I ask Deputies to co-operate in terms of the time.

We have seen all the sort of details to which Deputy Catherine Murphy referred. What I was setting out is that I have seen how the plans had to change. It all had to be radically changed on several occasions. I believe and it is expected that exactly what the roadmap is will be set out in more detail. I think it will be possible to do that now because, for the first time, there is some sort of clarity around the international supply of the vaccine. That was not certain until now. Last week, we saw the AstraZeneca numbers change radically. The entire plan had to change again as a result. I believe there is increasing certainty around the issue for the coming weeks and, in that light, I think it will be possible for us to make public all the detailed plans that are there. The entire system is working on that and there is no shortage of resources or any other capability. I believe that plan can and will be shared, with the proviso that it may change. It may change for the better if some of the other vaccines, such as the Johnson & Johnson or Janssen vaccine or the CureVac vaccine, come into play. If that is the case, we will have to continue to change in order to advance and do things more quickly. That is what we are focused on.

Rosslare Europort is one of Ireland's most important pieces of infrastructure, particularly in the context of Brexit. In the early 1900s, the British constructed Rosslare Port having identified its strategic location as being the most accessible and closest in terms of distance to mainland Europe and the UK. Despite its strategic importance, successive Governments have failed or neglected to make proper investment in this country's most strategic port. Politicians holding senior political posts in various Governments flooded poorly located ports with millions of euro, all in the interests of political personal gain. Foynes, Cork and Dublin ports have all been beneficiaries of that strategy, to the detriment of Rosslare. Government politicians representing the constituency of Wexford have, for decades, engaged in the PR stunt of advocating the case for the investment at Rosslare Europort while privately, within their own political circles in Dublin, accepting that no such investment will ever happen because of the red herring of the ownership issue.

Since the advent of Brexit, traffic at the port has increased by in excess of 450%. We are all still at level 5 lockdown, which we hope will end soon, but there has been traffic congestion in Wexford, particularly in Oilgate. However, when we get to the summer months and the level 5 lockdown restrictions abate, from Rosslare to Oilgate will undoubtedly be more congested and that will inevitably cause delays. On Monday in the Seanad, a Fianna Fáil Senator asked a Fine Gael junior Minister, Deputy Peter Burke, for a timeline on the completion of the M11 motorway from Oilgate to Rosslare Europort. The Minister of State indicated a timeline of eight to 13 years depending on the availability of funding. In light of the consequences of Brexit, such a timeline is completely unacceptable. We need less of the PR babble and more action. What is needed is for someone to take this combined scheme by the scruff of the neck, complete the M11 from Oilgate to Rosslare and upgrade the infrastructure of Rosslare Europort to facilitate Ireland's import and export trade. The State has engaged professionals on two occasions to decide the route of the motorway, costing taxpayers double what it ought to have cost.

Has the Government no foresight? It took the arrival of Brexit for it to realise that Rosslare Europort is Ireland's most valuable and neglected piece of infrastructure, yet not one shilling has been forthcoming. There has been a 450% increase in traffic at the port since 1 January. The whole industry knew that would materialise, with the exception, it seems, of those in the Department of the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and others who compiled the Irish Maritime Development Office, IMDO, report. Where is the Government's leadership? Where is the foresight that will see Rosslare as the country's main offshore wind farm and construction port? We need leadership and decision making, to be followed by the money.

I agree with Deputy Verona Murphy that we need more balanced regional development. The national planning framework is a guideline for much of the work I do as Minister for Transport. It is critical to get more balanced regional development. If I recall correctly, approximately 97% roll-on, roll-off traffic comes through Dublin Port. That is an imbalance we need to address. I had a very good meeting with representatives of Foynes Port yesterday. They are looking at the potential development of container business from the port, which might rebalance things.

I absolutely agree with the Deputy that Rosslare Europort will have a critical role of strategic importance for the State, particularly because of Brexit, in terms of both the increasing travel directly to the Continent and the ongoing use of the land bridge from Wexford to the Welsh coast. First and foremost, I recognise that the staff and management of Rosslare Harbour have done a remarkable job. They have facilitated a significant increase in the number of sailings from the port and in the volume of output, particularly in recent months as a result of Brexit and the changing circumstances, and they have managed that in a way that no one could have expected. The Deputy is correct that, historically, there has been insufficient investment in Rosslare Europort. That is something we are now seeking to change. Various development prospects are being considered, including the significant development of the port as a centre for the roll-out of offshore wind industry, which offers significant potential for this country. That also may be the case for other ports. We will have to go very quickly through a process of assessing what type of investment is made and in which location, but I believe Rosslare Europort could provide an ideal location for such development.

A rail review is currently being carried out or started by the Government. That has to be included in looking at the future development of Rosslare. We need to look at the likes of the Wexford rail line and the now disused connection from Wexford to Waterford to see whether that could be a way of enhancing economic activity and social life in the south east. However, the Deputy is correct that we also need to improve road access to Rosslare Europort in light of its increasing strategic importance to the State. It takes time to build roads, which involves route selection, the planning process and procurement. There is also the issue of cost. The sections of motorway, dual carriageway or other national road which we are delivering do not come cheap. That said, I confirm to the Deputy that it is my view that it is one of the strategic areas in which we need to invest. We need to ensure we have the best possible connectivity to the Continent and other markets, including the UK. Rosslare will have a central part in that. Addressing this issue may well include consideration of the ownership issues of which the Deputy is aware. She mentioned the history in that regard. We may need to look at that as one of the elements we need to get right in the future management of Rosslare Europort.

I thank the Minister. I hope the ownership issue will be the last thing at which he looks because it is the least relevant. He stated that nobody could have expected the figures to grow exponentially from 1 January but I repeat that everybody in the industry expected that the figures would grow in that way. The only people who did not expect it, it appears, were those in the IMDO. I am glad to hear the Minister confirm that he is looking at this issue but a decision is needed imminently. There is a requirement for immediate funding of a few million euro to get this process under way and to determine that Rosslare Europort will be the construction base for the new wind farm projects that are about to be undertaken. We do not have time to spare in that regard. We have a small window in which to prepare for that; otherwise we will lose the opportunity forever. I do not accept that that can happen to Rosslare this time around.

The Minister spoke about balanced regional development. There has been absolutely no such balance up to now.

It is time that the Government sees the strategic importance of Rosslare Europort, puts its money where its mouth is and invests in the port. It will take a number of years to get us to a point where we can offer the infrastructure required in any port in this country so I ask the Minister to make the most strategic decision.

I remember visiting the port in Rosslare 17 or 18 years ago when the first offshore wind farm was being built. The blades and turbines were deployed from Rosslare Harbour. It seems that the port has many of the characteristics we will need, considering the significant investment we are going to make in the Irish Sea and Celtic Sea areas. We expect an auction system early next year. Prior to that, it is critical that we get the Marine Planning and Development Management Bill through this House in order that we can set up the necessary systems. The Deputy is right that there is a tight timeline involved. The Government must act quickly and it will do so. We will make sure that the investments are in place to facilitate development, subject to proper environmental checks. It may not necessarily or exclusively happen in Rosslare because we must look at the variety of port options and different ports come with different options. We will make the best choice for the economic and environmental development of this country.

I am going talk about the 2040 national development plan as it applies to the mid-west region. The plan was written in 2015. It is like a "once upon a time" story when one considers what is needed in Limerick. The plan later became the national development plan of 2019 and then the national framework, which is now the 2040 plan. I looked at the investment projects and programme tracker in advance of Leaders' Questions. MetroLink in Dublin is receiving €1 billion. The Luas cross-city initiative has received €500 million. The national children's hospital project has received €1 billion. The greater Dublin drainage scheme has been allocated €1 billion. The Ringsend water treatment plant has been allocated €1 billion. All of those projects are to be completed by 2025. I am sure they are all worthwhile projects, but what about the rest of the country?

The Minister mentioned Foynes Port and I stated in the Dáil last week and the week before that it is the deepest port in Europe. I also mentioned the dispersion of traffic throughout the country on more than one occasion in the Dáil. The motorway from Limerick to Dublin is nothing but trucks and buses. The Minister talked about Dublin Port and 97% of roll-on, roll-off traffic is coming through Dublin. Foynes Port is a perfect answer to achieve the reduced emissions that the Minister talks about. The perfect solution for dispersion of traffic is Shannon Airport, which can cater for 4.5 million passengers but which, before 2019, dealt with only 1.8 million passengers. People could not go through Shannon because they could not get connecting flights. It was not viable to run those flights through Shannon. The Minister must look for a new chairperson of Shannon Group and I ask him to look for someone who has a track record in business, who knows the Department and how to run the airport and make it work for the region.

The people of Limerick nearly had to walk the streets again last week to get the agreement in respect of a road project that was approved in 2015. What is the Government at? Some 60% of the towns and villages in County Limerick had inadequate water supplies on Monday. The sewerage systems of 73% of the towns and villages in Limerick are at maximum capacity. The development plan states that housing and infrastructure is to be centred around towns and villages in rural Ireland but not in the countryside. The Government needs to wake up and look outside Dublin.

Looking forward to 2040, we absolutely need a metro system, BusConnects, DART+ and various other projects in Dublin. My colleagues in government know that in any meeting I have, my first priority is, as I told Deputy Verona Murphy, the national planning framework. We need better balanced, more compact and low-carbon development in this country. My first priority should be to look at the likes of Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick and put in infrastructural investment to see those cities grow beyond anything we have seen in the past 40 years. I agree with the Deputy that investment needs to be made in Limerick and the Shannon area in general. I would start in Foynes Port where, as the Deputy said, there is huge potential and very deep waters. The port is located close to the offshore wind power resources that we know we are going to develop. That gives us the potential for industrial development in the area, using the power as it comes ashore rather than shipping it to another location on the east coast. We should put the industry where the power exists. We will need infrastructure for rail freight because I believe that zinc deposits in the region could well be used and will have to be moved by rail rather than road. We will reopen the Foynes rail line and not at considerable cost because the line is there. When we are doing that, we will look at the other four underused rail lines in Limerick and look to put in stations at key points across the city and region, including at Shannon Airport, Moyross, Corbally and a range of other stations across and around the city. That would accommodate what we want, which is transport-led, compact and high-quality development where we can put in new housing. That is my first priority and we need it.

We will get the metro and BusConnects and have done good work on those two. We have not done the work in Limerick yet but we are doing it now. In the review of the national development plan, it is that sort of investment that I hope turns everyone around to thinking that is the clever way of developing Limerick. We can put housing beside the infrastructure and use the advantages of the region. That would benefit not only Limerick but also the wider region because we all know that if that infrastructure is put in, tourism starts to work better to the benefit of Clare and Tipperary. Let us have a vision of a metropolitan region that would extend as far as Nenagh. There should be a fast, low-carbon electric train service. That is all doable. The planning time will not be long because the rail lines are there and all we need to do is to put in the stations. My colleague, Deputy Matthews, tells me that Irish Rail has real capability and plans that we can take off the shelf. We could do that work at the same time we develop stations in Cork. They can be delivered at low cost and built quickly because there are not planning delays and high costs. We will use the existing infrastructure well. That infrastructure was built almost 100 years ago but it still works. We can upgrade it today to make Limerick a 21st century city fit for the future.

I look forward to the investment in Limerick but, as I said, it is like a "once upon a time" story. The Minister is talking about everything but 73% of towns and villages have no infrastructure, sewerage or adequate water supplies while €4.5 billion is spent in Dublin. There are 25 other counties in the Republic of Ireland and the Government is spending billions in Dublin and throwing crumbs out to the other counties in the country. People will not be able to work in the areas the Minister is talking about. Askeaton has been waiting for a sewerage plant for 30 years. Oola has been waiting for a sewerage plant for 10 years. Twenty-one houses were built in Kilfinane and five of them had to go onto a private on-site sewerage system because there is no capacity.

I love to see the Minister's vision and hear him tell his stories but reality is reality. The 2040 plan is going to stop people who are building one-off houses and installing their own top of the range sewerage plants that cost €10,000. Such people pay €5,000 to the local authorities because the Government has not seen the vision. The 2040 plan would be a good plan if there was the infrastructure in Limerick and across Ireland.

One of the reasons we want compact development is because if we keep building outward, we have to keep building more and more new infrastructure. It would be far more economic for us and work far better if we build up our existing towns through a town-centre-first strategy. We must invest in all those existing sewerage systems in towns where sewage is pumped directly out. Compact development works not only because there is no time cost when one can walk to a shop, church or local pub, but it is also because we are using existing infrastructure. We are not allowing that infrastructure go to seed and then building outward. It is availing of what we have. That applies in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Donegal or wherever we are.

As well as the cities we must build up, more than anything else we must address our 19th century market towns. A strategic question has been asked of whether we let them wither on the vine or if we bring people and life back into their centre and create vibrant communities. That is what this Government is going to do.