Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 30 Nov 2021

Vol. 280 No. 10

National Development Plan 2021-2030: Statements

I thank the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, for coming into the House. He has ten minutes.

I appreciate the opportunity to come before the House to say a few words on the national development plan, NDP. I will have to leave the House at about 5.45 p.m. to go to Dáil Éireann as I must introduce a Bill. The Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, will deputise for me at that point. I am grateful to have this opportunity to speak with the House about the revised national development plan which I launched last month along with the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications and Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan.

As the largest and most climate-focused national development plan in the history of the State, the NDP sets out a clear, overarching strategy of planned investment of €165 billion for the coming decade to 2030. This is an ambitious plan that will deliver the infrastructure required for a growing population and for a digital and green transition. It is a plan that will provide more social and affordable homes for families and individuals. In essence, it will transform our country and promote job creation, economic development and regional growth. Balanced regional development is very much at the heart of this NDP.

This NDP was drafted within the context of the ongoing challenges of Covid-19 and Brexit, and its design means it can endure uncertainty when future challenges occur, as they inevitably will. This flexibility lies in its approach in outlining the investment priorities for the coming decade, under which individual projects, timelines and costs can be adjusted in response to challenges and externalities.

It is important to note that my role, and that of my Department, in the review of the NDP was to engage with Departments across Government to set the overall capital allocations for each sector. It is the role of each Minister to determine how his or her departmental allocations will be invested and what sectoral priorities, programmes and projects will be funded. Given that this is a decade-long plan, it is important that there is flexibility in the delivery of projects while maintaining the overall objectives set out in the plan. In this context, it is important to note that the NDP is not an exhaustive list of projects to be undertaken over the next ten years. As part of the plan, I have brought forward policies to increase scrutiny and governance throughout the management process.

This NDP is built on the foundation of evidence-informed analysis that has allowed the Government to navigate a path to deliver on our future infrastructure needs. Well-targeted public capital investment can transform our infrastructure and increase the ability of our economy to grow in a fair and sustainable manner. Public investment can also have a dramatic impact on the wider economy. The NDP provides a clear signal to industry of the investment profile from the State over the next ten years. This will, in turn, encourage investment and job creation from the construction sector in particular. It is to be noted that we are sending a positive statement to the sector about the scale of the investment that the State is embarking upon over the next decade. It is estimated that the investment in the NDP will create over 80,000 direct and indirect jobs in the construction industry alone. It is also anticipated that just over €100 billion of direct spending in construction generates a further €60 billion in indirect output throughout the supply chain. When one takes into account the wider economy outside the construction sector, the economic benefits of sustained capital investment from the State is crystal clear.

The revised NDP is undoubtedly an ambitious plan, but the evidence base upon which the capital ceilings are set mean I am confident that it will support a more resilient, sustainable future for our country and improve the lives and living standards of all the people living here. This year alone, the Government has allocated €10 billion to capital expenditure, the highest annual level in our State's history. At 5% of modified gross national income, GNI*, our investment is well above the recent EU average of 3% of national income. This level of investment is set to grow under this NDP. This investment is producing real results. Some 20 major projects are expected to be finished this year alone, including the recently opened N4 upgrade to Sligo, the north runway project at Dublin Airport and, in recent days, we saw the completion of the runway reconstruction at Cork Airport. Looking at the education sector alone, an average of 150 to 200 school building projects will be delivered every single year over the period 2021 to 2025.

The revised NDP not only sets out investment levels over the next ten years, but also the manner in which capital projects are scrutinised to ensure quality delivery and value for money for the taxpayer. Our plans to improve the project appraisal process and reduce the risk of project overspends, as well as initiatives to increase the capacity of our public bodies, are all well under way. Enhancing the governance structure that presides over our public investments is imperative if we are to deliver much-needed projects on time and on budget. I recently announced the implementation of a number of new initiatives designed to strengthen the assurance process for major public investment projects that cost in excess of €100 million and to improve delivery. The first of these is the introduction of a new external assurance process for major capital projects to provide independent projects scrutiny at two decision points in a project's lifecycle.

This will allow concerns to be addressed as they arise, which in turn will improve the delivery of projects and ensure that value for money is achieved.

To support the external assurance process, a new major projects advisory group has been established to further strengthen the management of public projects. External experts on the group are being appointed to complement the public service leadership currently in place. This brings Ireland in line with our international counterparts. In addition, I have decided to bring an enhanced challenge function, expert knowledge and independent rigour to the deliberations of the Project Ireland 2040 delivery board by adding up to five external members to the board. Again, this will be done through an open and public competition. Tracking project progress more closely is another key element to successful delivery and the national investment office in my Department is working on a revamped investment project tracker that will be published with increasing frequency. I reassure the House that all of these additional reforms and the strengthening of the external assurance and governance framework are not about delaying projects but about making sure we get them right and deliver them on time and on budget.

Increasing the levels of innovation in the construction sector through digital ambition supports will ultimately see public projects delivered to a higher standard using digital efficiencies. Capacity, innovation and digital adoption within the Irish construction sector are increasing through the Government's collaborative approach and continued regular engagement with industry representatives via the construction sector group.

In early November, I announced that a consortium led by the Technological University Dublin was the winner of a €2.5 million grant to deliver the build digital project. This project is one of seven priority action points arising from the building innovation report, which drew upon an extensive consultation and international benchmarking process and an economic analysis of the causes of productivity trends in the Irish construction sector. This funding will assist in the effective delivery of projects and ultimately will assist in us meeting our Project Ireland 2040 and NDP ambitions. It is very important that the construction sector continues to reform, innovate and embrace new ways of doing business and all the technologies that are constantly evolving.

The supporting excellence action team report, published last month alongside the NDP, examined the capability of the public service to deliver large-scale capital programmes and sets out a number of significant recommendations to support the agenda of improved delivery capability. The range of measures outlined include the development of the Office of Government Procurement's commercial skills academy to enhance procurement and introduce further legal and planning reforms.

I acknowledge that the delivery of the public works projects are being impacted by the recent surge in prices of construction materials and I have been working with my officials to consider the optimum means to bring greater certainty to future tenders in light of these cost increases. In reference to future tenders, interim amendments to the provisions in the public works contracts will be introduced in December to help reduce the level of risk of extraordinary price inflation that contractors are encountering. These will address the period between tender submission and awarding of a project, through limited indexation of the tender price. They will also reduce the fixed price period to 24 months, while permitting mutual cost recovery within the fixed price period for material price changes in excess of 15%.

This decade-long strategy of well-targeted public capital investment will have a dramatic impact on this country's employment opportunities, economic development and regional growth. The NDP will deliver significant and essential infrastructural projects through increased levels of public investment of €165 billion to support the ambitions set out in Project Ireland 2040, be they in health, housing, transport, arts, culture or our third level sector, to name just a few.

I have placed a particular focus on improving the governance and oversight of capital projects, as well as on supporting innovation in the delivery of these investments. It is now about delivery and implementing the NDP. We will have a significant underspend of our capital budget this year, as we did last year and Covid is one significant reason for that. As we move into a new phase, it is critically important that the budget is spent and that all of our colleagues across government and all the spending bodies deliver on the ambitions and the NDP because funding is available to deliver many of the projects we all want to see. I look forward to hearing the views of Senators over the course of the debate.

I thank the Minister for coming to the House and for his work on the development of this comprehensive plan. While I welcome his statement that this is all about delivery, it is also about ensuring value for money. One of the problems with many major public projects is that the public accept the need for them but ask who is watching their budgets. The national children's hospital obviously springs to mind in that regard. I welcome the Minister's assurances that he is putting in place appropriate mechanisms to ensure we do not continue to have the kind of difficulties we had with the national children's hospital. The governance structure is essential.

The moves the Government is making to provide a little more certainty on planning times with An Bord Pleanála will assist. In the case of major capital projects, whether public or private, the time An Bord Pleanála takes to make its decisions is completely unacceptable. It is not about what the decision is but the time factor involved.

I welcome the Minister's statement that this is a plan to deal with the digital and green transition. None of us can really contemplate what the world will look like as a result of the convergence of new technologies at the end of this decade. Transport infrastructure will probably involve hydrogen-powered automated cars. We will have an education system that will make increased use of augmented and virtual reality. It is estimated that up to 65% of jobs will either be made redundant or substantially changed because of automation, new technologies and machine learning. It is essential that this plan prepares us for that radically different world. The plan includes a significant element of upskilling and reskilling to assist us in meeting those opportunities and challenges. We also have to be mindful of our research capacity so that Ireland can play a leading role in solving some of the global problems we face.

I welcome the clear commitment in the plan to ensure that every school is modern and digitally enabled and the use of digital technology, teaching, learning and assessment will be embedded. There is a significant strategy on higher and further education and I welcome the particular focus on the new technological universities and the contribution they will make in upskilling and reskilling us for this new world. I particularly welcome the clear commitment on the technological university for the south east, with the expansion of the footprint of Waterford Institute of Technology as well as a campus in Wexford. Investment in cutting edge research has to be tied to that. The Government established the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science not as an administrative Department but to drive research and prepare Irish society. It is important that it have a key role within the NDP.

I hope the emphasis placed on cybersecurity in the plan is not lost. I was conscious the Minister mentioned that the €10 billion allocated in 2020 was the largest sum for capital expenditure ever announced by a Government. While that is welcome, last week Grant Thornton estimated that cybercrime cost Irish business €9.6 billion in 2020. This year, we saw the largest cyberattack ever on a health service anywhere in the world. In response to a Commencement matter last week, the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, informed me that the ICT repairs alone had cost the State €37.5 million to date. This does not include the costs of delays to appointments and other disruption in the health service. Our infrastructure will face further cyberattacks in the future. This is an issue of national defence and security and, as such, it is right that it is placed at the heart of the NDP. The plan places considerable emphasis on the National Cyber Security Centre and commits to increasing the centre's staff from 25 to 70 over a five-year period.

I respectfully suggest that this number will be an underestimate in terms of the expectation of that centre. Right across the Government, with all elements of infrastructure, we have got to ensure that the infrastructure is safe because there is no reason to think that were a malign state actor to decide it has a problem with the way Ireland voted in the UN Security Council on an issue, it would not decide to look at attacking some of our infrastructure. Consequently, we have got to ensure that anything we create is as resilient as possible against that.

It is important, because often they are overlooked and the Minister mentioned the investment in arts and culture, to welcome the fact that our national cultural institutions are going to be a key part of our statement of Ireland as a society. There is a clear commitment within the document to this matter.

Finally, I want to turn, as do most people, to the transport sector. I specifically want to look at the key importance of Rosslare Europort. We know that in the first nine months of this year alone, continental European trade volumes between Rosslare and continental Europe are up 378%. This is where one talks about events. That figure can be directly traced to Brexit but it was how Rosslare was able to respond to that. Thirty weekly services now operate between Rosslare and continental Europe. Our ports had to be prepared for Brexit and what happened there. We have finally recognised the jewel that is Rosslare Europort. It is the main Irish port for roll-on, roll-off traffic. One thing that is key for that activity is entry in and out of the port and, therefore, we need the M11 motorway to be completed. The project is not just regionally important; it is now of national significance in a post-Brexit scenario. The project will also alleviate all of the villages from Oilgate and so on down to Rosslare. It is essential that the M11 project is prioritised.

I thank the Minister for his work. The key challenge is around delivery but I am quite confident that he will lead that.

I will be sharing time with Senators Dolan and Cummins.

I welcome the Minister and thank him for his work on the national development plan. It is important that we have a vision for Ireland in the years ahead and, more importantly, a commitment to capital infrastructure thereafter.

I will be parochial and say that the people of Galway wait with bated breath at the possibility that Intel will come to an area of State-owned lands near Oranmore in Galway, which is the result of the foresight and vision of Galway County Council and its councillors to designate an area from Athenry to Oranmore as an economic corridor. The land has been laid out with roads, car parks and adjoins or abuts the Galway to Dublin railway line. There is huge potential for IDA Ireland to deliver the project for Galway. Obviously the State will do all that it can to achieve that for Galway and Oranmore. The potential in terms of investment by previous Governments in the Galway to Dublin and Limerick to Tuam motorways is there and is evident. There is also great potential to extend the railway line from Athenry to Tuam and Mayo to bring people, should Intel decide to move to the location.

One area that is lacking is the wastewater infrastructure, which was part of previous plans. The Minister has said that this plan does not have an exhaustive list but the infrastructure was in previous plans in the form of the east Galway drainage scheme, which is east of the city. I am sure that the project will cross his desk because it would be a major piece of infrastructure. Galway has a young and growing population. Moreover, as it has the National University of Ireland, Galway, NUIG, and the new Atlantic technological university, the potential there for employees is also great.

I often hear that Galway has been left behind other places such as Cork and Limerick when it comes to roads infrastructure and the Jack Lynch tunnel and the Limerick tunnel, and that progress for Galway has been bogged down by planning delays. For example, previously the Galway city ring road and the Galway city outer bypass projects were with An Bord Pleanála for a long time and have been delayed. I am sure that both projects will cross the desk of the Minister, subject to planning approval.

The Minister said at the outset that he had money unspent, which is always very difficult for politicians to hear because we have a range of projects on which we would like to spend money. One of the projects that I have pushed, which is a general countrywide one, concerns community centres. There are communities in Moycullen, Newcastle and Galway city that have planning permission and projects ready to go but that do not have money because there is no dedicated fund. Unless a local authority has a sufficient rates base or whatever to develop projects, then there is no dedicated fund. The Minister did put in place a fund, through the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Humphreys, for upgrades of community centres but not for the establishment of new community centres. If the Minister wants to spend money then there is potential for a sports capital-type project of a rolling fund every 18 months of between €30 million and €40 million. I am sure that there will be plenty of places that have new and growing communities but no community infrastructure, which is where there is potential and I ask the Minister to look at that in future budgets. There is a lack of facilities and people say that there are houses but no amenities.

I welcome the Minister to the House. Obviously the national development plan is exceptionally important for my own city of Waterford. The ambition in Project Ireland 2040 to drive population growth within the south-east region and to have balanced regional development and interconnectivity between the regions is of critically importance. I heard Senator Malcolm Byrne speak about Rosslare port and an essential part of that is the N24 link between Limerick, the mid-west region, the south-east region and onwards to Rosslare port. It is one of the worst national primary routes in the country. The Minister has his own interests in terms of the Limerick to Cork connection but the Waterford to Limerick connection is of critical importance to both regions. In fact, it will connect the western seaboard across to the south east and link all five cities.

The Government has earmarked €110 million for the urban regeneration and development fund for the North Quays project in Waterford. There has been very significant development across retail, apartments, office space and a transport interchange at the area. Therefore, we need to see the project further developed along with investment in the new technological university in the south east and further investment in the University Hospital Waterford. I will converse with the Minister separately on those projects and thank him for his interest in balanced regional development, which is very important.

I want to ask the Minister about hospitals, particularly in regional areas. Portiuncula University Hospital is in the HSE's capital plan. We have a 50-bed unit there that I hope will move on to the second stage of procurement and that construction will start in January or February of the coming year. We have Roscommon University Hospital where there are many good things happening, such as the expansion of the rehabilitation unit that will be based in Roscommon.

Ballinasloe has waited for 25 years for a primary school. Planning permission will shortly be submitted and I ask that it will be part of the capital spend by the Department of Education. Schools are crucial, particularly in regional and rural areas. This particular school is a Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, level 1 school so it is an area of disadvantage.

Finally, I wish to mention broadband and cycleways. Broadband is an infrastructure that encourages people to live and work locally. I ask that the broadband project is accelerated as much as possible.

I do not know if I have had the pleasure of speaking to the Minister before but I am in awe of the challenges and the work that he has to do in his role as Minister. It is an honour to have him in the House.

On paper, the national development plan is the largest and greenest plan we have ever seen.

The Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, has said that himself. It is most welcome. It is delivering on the Green Party commitments to future-proof the plan and deliver for climate, communities and equality. It is not going to be an easy decade. If nothing in the plan commences, this will leave us in a much worse off place. It is important that we see action on this plan because on paper it is very good. The plan shows commitment to supporting sustainable job creation and contributes to the economic, social and environmental sustainability of communities most affected by the transition to a low-carbon future.

I live in the middle of nowhere in west Clare. Rural dwellers will be most vulnerable, not just through land loss from flooding and climate mitigation but also with rising fuel costs. There is an unfairness there. When I come to Dublin, I can get a Dublin Bike, DART or Luas. There are lots of options. I work with Cycling Safety. There is pretty good infrastructure here in Dublin but down in Clare we are hard pressed. Yesterday, I nearly opened a bottle of champagne because we had five bike lockers in the county. There is a very different animal in rural areas.

I was looking at the figures. One fifth of our carbon emissions come from transport alone. The total emissions are 12 Mt. Of that total, 8 Mt, or two thirds, comes from private car owners. Given that private car owners in rural areas are responsible to a great extent for carbon emissions, when we talk about the national development plan and funding, we must make sure we see the financial backing to match that when we invest in transport.

We had a meeting with the NTA recently, but I was disappointed with its lack of vision about what needs to be done for transport in rural areas. Thanks to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, we have a big increase in public service obligation, PSO, services and Local Link services, but not everybody has a Local Link or a PSO service passing their door. There is a whole other piece around rural roads, speed on secondary and tertiary roads, and how we get to buses, which only stop in towns at the moment. We need rural bus stops, bike racks on buses and proper vision in this regard because we have seen it work in other countries, where one can hail a bus and one does not have to go to one's local town. Lots of rural dwellers might live 10 km or 12 km from a town or village, so how do they get there if they are supposed to be relying on expensive fossil fuels? There is a huge piece there that we need to look at. The State bodies will have to catch up with the reality of what we are facing in the next ten years. Otherwise, the money will be badly spent.

Now is the time for significant investment in greening the country and the economy. They go hand in hand. Larry Fink, the billionaire, wrote to all the multinationals and said "climate risk is investment risk", and that they should not be investing their money unless it is climate resilient. He said that climate resilience equates with economic resilience. It is no longer just the green thing that we have been going on about as a party for 40 years. This is the reality. We can forget about economic growth if we do not have climate resilience. What good is money if it does not stop the land from flooding? The farming community is losing so much land.

That is another aspect of the matter that we must look at as well. I refer to the type of flood infrastructure we are putting in. Hard engineering alone costs four times that of catchment-based solutions. It has not solved the problem, it just shoves it on somewhere else. If we want to invest, we must do so wisely as well. I urge the Minister to bring that point back to the Cabinet. The OPW's old ways of doing things are no longer sufficient and do not work. A woman contacted me yesterday who lives in Ballyvaughan, which is a beautiful village near the sea. Looking at predictive maps, in 2050, it will be under water. She asked me what the Government is going to do about that. She knows she has to move inland. This is not a green issue, it is about homes and farms as well. The national development plan is good. It is the greenest ever, but that is for a very good reason.

The western rail corridor has the potential to revitalise the entire west. We talk about rural development. Every time I speak, I will talk about what we need in rural areas. There is a train to Ennis, once in the morning and once at 3 p.m. The morning train at 6.50 a.m. is packed with students and people going to Galway, but we need more trains and there is a commitment in that regard in the plan. If these projects are delivered, they will change the country and give us the protection that we need if we are to face climate change head-on and the economic threat it will bring.

The green transition fund will drive decarbonisation. We had a very successful meeting with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Varadkar, who has committed €22 million to the SME sector. I made a pre-budget submission on how to decarbonise and digitalise SMEs and he agreed to it. I am also seeking that the Oireachtas committee would bring in people such as the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, to speak about the circular economy and Seamus Hoyne, who is working hard on how we help small businesses survive the new challenge we face due to hikes in the cost of fossil fuels. We can forget the carbon tax. It is such a minor detail in the overall scheme. Fossil fuel costs are increasing. It is either a green future or no future. That is how serious the situation is now. For that reason, it is great that the national development plan is so green.

The digital transition is going to play a significant part too. In Clare, we are leading the way on digital hubs to encourage people to have microbusinesses that are going green as well. I am taking my seven minutes. There is a huge piece there on the circular economy as well. It is great that we have a Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, who has responsibility for that area. Some good work is being done in the area which will lead to so many more jobs if we take the circular economy seriously. I met a great man today, by accident, who is designing and making bikes in Ireland. We have a huge part to play in manufacturing. We saw at the beginning of Covid that we could not even make our own masks. There is something about us being resilient as a country and in doing so we will create more jobs and will be resilient as a nation. I look forward to seeing the NDP rolled out and coming to fruition as soon as possible. I wish the Minister the best of luck with it.

I say "Goodbye" to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, and welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth. While I welcome many aspects of this plan, I am deeply disappointed, as we see major rail and light rail projects being kicked further down the road. I will talk about Dublin initially. The MetroLink and Luas connections to Lucan, Bray and Poolbeg are all stalled for at least another ten years. Despite the rail line to Navan being the largest single issue raised during the strategy's consultation, a shovel will not be lifted this side of 2031. Meanwhile, the DART underground, a project that was originally considered in a 1972 transportation in Dublin study, has been shelved altogether, but might be revisited after 2042. That is a mere 70 years later. To be frank, 70 years thinking about one project is unbelievable.

I want to focus on a couple of key questions. It is a pity I have just missed the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, but I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, will do his best to respond to me as well. My questions relate to the mid-west. As the Minister of State is aware, the proposals on the M20 are now for an N-M20. This is a major concern because, way back when I was in college – God knows that was long enough ago – Ed Walsh spoke about the Atlantic corridor, right beside it, as a balance against Dublin. He called for proper regional development based on Limerick, Cork and Galway being linked together, one hour in travel in either direction from Limerick. We need a motorway to make that happen. An "N" road simply will not do it. The Minister of State might answer one simple question for me. Which is it going to be? Is it going to be a motorway, which is what has been promised for more than a decade at this point, including by the previous Government, or is it going to be a series of N roads, which would be a very different proposition? That is crucial, because people are travelling in both directions every day for work. It is a hell of a commute. I did it myself for a while. It is not easy. However, it is more important in terms of the bigger picture and creating a proper balance across the west coast to Dublin. That was the vision Ed Walsh had, which many of us share, and we need to see commitment and delivery in that regard.

That brings me to one of the key points about the national development plan. There are lots of good things in it, but we do not know which projects are going to be delivered. As the Acting Chairman, Senator McDowell, said a few weeks ago, it looks like a wish list. None of us knows what is going to be delivered. Some 18 months into the term of this Government, we are now waiting for a strategic rail review to tell us more. How long is that going to take?

I will give a practical example. There are good references to local rail development in Limerick. However, if we are serious about delivering rail in Limerick, we must make a double track between Limerick and Galway, which would mean there would be a spur to Shannon and that we could have regular services in both directions. That is a big undertaking and investment. The worst outcome would be some kind of half-hearted one whereby we would continue with a single track rail between Limerick and Galway and then an occasional train, perhaps on a spur, ten years or so later to Shannon. That will not work. Shannon Airport needs a direct link with a regular service. That is the level of detail that we are looking for that we do not currently have. At least the N-M20 is mentioned. The northern distributor road, which is a central piece of architecture for Limerick city, has been dropped from the plan.

That does not make any sense. We have massive problems in Limerick at two ends of the city. We have people backing off onto the motorway each way at the Mackey roundabout because they cannot get onto the roundabout. It is not just private cars. The future of cross-city public transport would be greatly enhanced by a northern distributor road but it has been dropped from the plan. I noted a line in the Minister's speech when he said it is important to note that the NDP is not an exhaustive list of projects to be undertaken over the next ten years. That is okay, but surely it is significant whether something is mentioned or not. If it is not significant then it really is just an empty list. To me, it is deeply significant and deeply worrying that the northern distributor road, which is a key piece of architecture we have been waiting for decades, is not even mentioned. It looks like a case of Limerick being forgotten, again. I must also mention the lack of a decent strategy on national aviation policy, which is going to be key, particularly in regard to Shannon Airport. The existing national aviation policy is six years old and is not fit for purpose, particularly after all we have been through and this also has not been dealt with in this national development plan. Again, it could be said that it has not been mentioned but we are going to deal with it, in which case, what is the value of the document? We need much more detail.

The other thing that really worries me is the lack of timelines. We have a wish list of projects but we do not know when they are going to happen or how long they will take. It does not look like the detailed policy document we need. I can accept that the Minister will provide more detail but we need to know when. We need to know when that strategic rail review is going to be completed. We need to know the detail of the projects. I mentioned before about the Ballybrophy line in Limerick. This is a simple win for the Minister. This is a line that is almost completed. It has 8.5 miles of track that need to be upgraded to complete it. At the moment it is scheduled to take another four years to do so. If the funding was rolled up to get it done next year we could start increasing the speed on that service and adding additional services. That is an easy win for commuters across Limerick and Tipperary. I urge the Minister to consider that. That would be a concrete project that we could see results from.

Cycling infrastructure in Limerick is absolutely appalling. As anyone who has cycled through Limerick will know, there is a cycle network, developed on a piecemeal basis, and lanes suddenly end in the middle of nowhere. On Parnell Street, there are loading bays to the left of the cycle lane, so that trucks and cars constantly come in and out while people try to cycle. What we have lacked for years is an integrated network. Is that going to happen? What we lack at the moment are details and timelines, and I hope to see those very quickly because otherwise it is going to be a wish list and we will end up disappointing people. The problem with an NDP like this is, there are many good things in it but there is a lack of detail on when it will be delivered. In particularly I would like an answer in regard to that Galway-Limerick train track. It is essential that becomes a double track, that we get a spur into Shannon to support Shannon Airport and we start building commuter services between Galway and Limerick. Let me emphasise, we need a motorway in Cork and I would like clarity in regard to that. I look forward to the Minister of State's response.

The Minister of State is welcome to the House.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth for coming to the Chamber. I also thank the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, for his presence earlier. When the Minister, Deputy McGrath, came before the Joint Committee on Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach last week, he made a number of comments, some of which I would like to pick up on. He highlighted that the national development plan sets out the broad direction for the investment priorities over the coming decade, that at its core, the national development plan is a high level financial and budgetary framework and that the national development plan is the largest and greenest plan ever delivered in Ireland. Of course it is and you could not disagree with any of that. If we look a bit further, we see this repeated statement that the national development plan is about aligning the Government's fiscal framework with the Government's climate ambitions. Most of us in this House and indeed the Dáil are clear on the absolute need to meet our emissions targets and cut emissions by 51% by 2030. We are clear on the ambition and the targets. However, it is telling that in the detail regarding retrofitting within the national development plan, there is a recognition that €28 billion has to be spent on bringing our housing stock up to a sufficient standard over the next decade, and yet the Government is only committing €8 billion in direct expenditure funding to that. The Government has acknowledged that almost a quarter of our housing stock, that is, 500,000 dwellings, need to be retrofitted. That is a recognition that housing accounts for 12.5% of emissions in the State and that it has a significant role to play in emission reduction. However, the NDP indicates the overwhelming reliance will be on private households and landlords to stump up two thirds of the cost of retrofitting the housing stock in this country. That is not good enough because it fails to recognise the extent to which many households do not have the spare capacity to invest in retrofitting. They do not have the discretionary spend left over at the end of the week. All of us here talk to young families who are paying a very large share of their income on childcare, to the person who has spent years saving to buy a house of his or her own or the older person living alone who depends on a small occupational pension. It is not good enough because it fails to recognise the scale and pervasiveness of fuel poverty and households living in energy-inefficient homes throughout the State.

This is an important issue to me because in the areas I am most familiar with in Dublin 1, 3, 7 and 9, there is a massive issue with energy-inefficient homes. This imposes additional costs on those who own those homes and particularly on those renters who cannot do anything about the energy bills they are facing and those who are struggling to make ends meet. We know from the data of the Central Statistics Office, CSO, data on domestic energy ratings based on the 2016 census that those living in Dublin 3, 6, 7 and 8 were the most likely throughout Dublin city and county to be living in a G energy-rated home. If we think about that, the aspiration is to bring homes up to a building energy rating, BER, of B2 and yet in Dublin 7 alone almost one in eight houses has a BER of G BER. As the Minister of State is aware, there is a world of difference in the cost of running a G energy-rated home relative to a B2 standard. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, estimates that the annual difference between running a two-bedroom apartment that is G-rated versus a B2-rated apartment is nearly €2,500 while for a three-bedroom semi-detached house, the difference is €3,200. Not only is it five times more expensive to run a G-rated household, it also generates more than five times the level of emissions. Going back to the national development plan, there is a commitment to put equity, inclusivity and fairness at the heart of the prospective national retrofitting plan and yet there is a major gap between the detail and the fine words in the climate action plan and in the national development plan. We heard the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, in the Dáil two weeks ago talking about how critical it is that the money this country had saved would have to go into the national retrofitting plan. He is right. Many households have saved money over the past year. I acknowledge there are issues about dead-weight loss and that those who can afford to retrofit should be able to but what about the households badly hit by job losses and lost earnings and that now must start out again having been out of work for so long? Where is the recognition for that? When I read the national development plan, the repeated focus is on private finance and loan guarantee schemes to fund retrofitting. I firmly believe that is short-sighted and wrong because it will ensure that fewer households than necessary will have their houses upgraded. There are many households which simply do not have the means to take on additional debt, no matter how low the interest rate or over what duration it is spread. They will need grants. While the Better Energy Warmer Homes scheme provides 100% grants, it is for social welfare recipients whereas for the Better Energy Homes scheme, applicants need to have money to be able to access money and support.

I will conclude on a more positive note and say that in my own area and right across inner city Dublin, there are many examples of people coming together to put forward proposals.

The Phibsboro Village Climate Club has done enormous work in looking at the energy profile in the area. It says that if we installed PV solar panels on 10% of the 7,800 houses in the in the area, we would be able to reduce the energy bill across the whole area by 20%. The impact of that alone on people's lives would be enormous.

I thank the Minister of State for listening. As someone within both the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, he has the wherewithal to put in place the sufficient supports and grants to ensure that those who want to retrofit can do so.

I will take up where Senator Sherlock left off on the question of retrofitting because it is important. I will touch on some of the other environmental and climate aspects but retrofitting is one of the key issues here. It is something we could get right but I am concerned that the mechanisms with which we are approaching it at the moment are not the right ones. That comes down to questions like value for money and so on. It is disappointing, for example, that €49 million of the recovery and resilience funding we received from the European Union specifically for green measures as direct money - a grant, not a loan - went to banks to de-risk them giving loans for retrofitting, instead of going directly into the retrofitting of our public buildings and schools. It could be argued that the banks will give larger loans but we should not need to be motivating the banks on this. We should be making it clear that these are the investments that pay off for banks.

At a macro level, we saw at the climate talks that one of the most dangerous narratives is the idea that states should pour all their money, or a huge amount of it, into de-risking private investment, which will then engage with those aspects of the climate transition that may be profitable. That is something we cannot afford to do. Many changes are going to be opposed tooth and nail but when there are positive changes that people want to make and are popular, like retrofitting, the State needs to lead. That is not simply about private housing, although that is one issue. I was concerned to hear the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications talking about schools taking out loans for retrofitting. Our schools should be retrofitted by the State. The State would then save on the energy costs in schools, as well as having the benefits for our children. That is an example of why it is important how we do this.

There are many positive elements in the Supporting Excellence report, which I have read. However, while it refers to public private partnerships, public-public partnerships are still missing. We have memorandums of understanding about public-private partnerships but not about public-public partnerships. So many of the things we are trying to do as a State will require co-operation between public bodies inside the State. Other governments are trying to do the same thing right across the European Union and the wider world. We need to be looking at public-public partnerships as a way of driving forward new ways of developing and delivering national infrastructure and national services. I urge the Minister of State to look to public-public partnerships as part of this piece.

On value for money, I am concerned by the references to the balancing of environment with value for money and the balancing of quality with value for money. Quality is about value for money. The Minister of State knows this because we have engaged on this issue. Quality is value for money. It is not something you balance against value for money but something that means we are getting the best for the State from what we spend and that we are getting the benefits and dividends. They may not take financial form but may take social or environmental form or may be in costs saved in other ways, such as costs saved in climate-related fines or costs saved in areas like health and so on. This is where the dividends come through. They may not fit within a financial model but they are value for money for the State.

The Minister of State will be aware of my legislation. It will move through slowly but a lot of these projects are going to be happening much sooner than that. I urge that he consider one of the key proposals in my legislation, which is that any major public works projects over the €5 million EU threshold would have a price to quality approach balancing both those things and a minimum of 50% quality. That is how we avoid cases like the national children's hospital, which had a 75% price weighting, meaning that the lowest price was always going to do it. I note the new proposals for the period between tender submission and award, but I respectfully suggest that the period in the design of calls for tender is the crucial one. The design and decision within that about what approach will be taken and what weightings will be given is the crucial period if we want to deliver capital for the many millions of euro that will be spent in this plan.

I will highlight three or four specific issues. I have mentioned my concerns about retrofitting. The piloting is inadequate and we need to be doing it on public buildings. I urge that we also introduce a combined product of retrofitting for climate but also for universal design so that we address the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD, obligations we have as a State at the same time. When we design in a way that is more environmentally sustainable we should also be designing in a way that is more equitable because we have that obligation under the UNCRPD. A combined retrofitting and adaptation grant would be welcomed by older people and people with a disability who spend more time at home and are more susceptible to high heating bills.

I raised this next matter with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform just a week ago at the finance committee but it has moved along since. The shadow price of carbon is being tracked, but does that include embodied carbon? It is important that embodied carbon is measured. France has now brought in regulations in that regard and it will have the EU Presidency so that is the direction of travel for the EU Commission. Measuring embodied energy is about measuring not just the cost of construction materials but the emission costs of demolition. If you demolish a building and it is going to take 65 years to get the savings back, those are the 65 years in which we need to act on climate. We cannot afford a front-loading of emissions in that regard. I urge that Ireland lead on that and that we include scope 3 emissions in the shadow price of carbon. We know we are going to need to do that from Europe so let us get ahead of it. It would also help if we looked at the refurbishment of construction materials as part of that more responsible approach. That would address some of the costs of those construction materials because we know they will continue to expand.

On the strategic rail review, I urge that the recommendation of the climate committee noting that we are doing cost-benefit analysis on rail wrong be taken on board because, frankly, the cost-benefit analysis on the western rail corridor was flawed. It is regrettable that that was not included in the Europe TEN-T funding projects. There is another round of TEN-T funding coming and Ireland should be submitting rail projects for that EU funding. If we miss this window and push these a decade down the line we will have yet again missed the opportunity for EU funding for national infrastructure and rail infrastructure, as happened when the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, was Minister for Transport. I urge that this be addressed and that the issue of freight also be addressed as part of the rail review.

The Minister of State is very welcome. When the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform was speaking earlier, he emphasised the fact that the national development plan was all about deliverability. Unlike sceptics who want to deride the vision for Ireland, I am a firm believer that we will see the very essence of this plan delivered and in doing so we will help the communities we all represent. The plan sets out that large blueprint on where we want to go as a country. When it comes to deliverability, which we all speak about, we know that the statutory agencies we have established on the ground across this country are key to ensuring that deliverability, whether that be in access to transport through the NTA, housing, the environment, planning through our councils and regional planning guidelines or through investment. That is what turns the vision into reality.

Many schemes in this document will have cross-departmental advantages, in particular things like urban regeneration. That is a substantial component that does so much. Having identified swathes of dereliction in our towns that happened because of building on the outskirts, urban regeneration is good for our environment, helps our urban spaces and helps to consolidate growth. It ties into the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage's functions, new housing schemes, and bringing people back to live in our urban centres again. The plan, unlike other plans, ties Departments together and achieves goals that we want to see, and which we talk and pontificate about, become a reality. It is an incredible and honourable plan in that respect. It involves investment in our food sector, which achieves what so many people talk about in terms of sustainability for our rural communities. It would create employment in these areas, using the employment opportunities that exist and continuing to invest in them.

Some large-scale projects were mentioned here. I am happy that there is a commitment to the Navan rail line on page 87 of the national development plan. There is a commitment to fund the advancement of that. By the time of the publication of the plan, I noted that it was contingent on the National Transport Authority endorsing it. I go back to what I said earlier, that we need the statutory agencies we have established to deliver these things for us. I did not come here to pontificate about it, or to grandstand and make speeches. I bothered my ass to engage with the National Transport Authority over years to identify what it required from a planning point of view to make this viable. We knew that what was required was identification of population growth in key areas that would justify the expenditure of €1 billion to extend the line. It was spearheaded by Meath County Council and its chief executive officer, Jackie Maguire. A month later, when the NTA published the transport strategy for the greater Dublin area, I was extremely happy to see that it "will" deliver the Navan rail line. It did not state, "shall," "might," or "we will look at it in the future," but "will". Of the 4,000 submissions received by the National Transport Authority, 2,000 came from the people of Navan, which showed the level of engagement by the public. There is public hunger to engage with the Government and agencies when they work properly. This shows the importance of aligning critical documents and people understanding the process, which we are all involved in.

I believe that we will see the delivery of this project and others far sooner than those who like to deride it think. Planning is the most significant aspect. When the Taoiseach visited Navan with me two weeks ago and stood on the platform, he said that if we get the planning process right, we will see things happen far sooner than people might think. The Navan rail line can be delivered far more quickly than some of the more problematic projects listed in the NTA's strategy. That is why I am confident that we will see that project, along with a host of other projects in the national development plan, delivered, operational, and improving the lives of the people we all represent.

I thank the Minister of State for coming to this debate. The national development plan is important to all of us. I regret what the plan states about the N20 and M20. When Project Ireland 2040 was launched by the previous Government in 2018, it referred to the M20. In this plan, it refers to the N20 and M20. I cannot reiterate enough how important this road link is. I recently met someone who had to go by ambulance from Limerick to Cork and it was not a pleasant experience. The road needs to be built. I welcome that much is said about the rail link. One thing that is not given much emphasis is the rail link from Limerick to Adare. The Ryder Cup is coming in 2026. I know that a feasibility study is to be done about the rail link in Limerick, whereas it is mentioned that rail links will be built in other cities, including Dublin and Cork. I would like to see a link to Shannon Airport. I agree with Senator Gavan about the Ballybrophy line. Many people travel to Limerick daily. Eight miles of the line are left to be upgraded. It does not make sense to upgrade it so far and then leave eight miles for the next time. It would be beneficial if this could be committed to. Regarding the Limerick 2030 plan, the Living City initiative is about getting people back into our city centres. These are important things that have to be committed to under this plan.

I want to focus on the M1 corridor between Dublin and Belfast. Some 3.3 million people live in that part of the island of Ireland. It is expected to be 4 million people by 2030. It is paramount that high-speed rail becomes a key priority for that corridor. That is what I will put in my submission on the strategic rail review, when I take part in a consultation process. It should be a key priority because it is not just about creating jobs in Dublin and expecting everyone to commute there, but about having a two-way process. It is about being able to attract people from Dublin to come to work in Drogheda, or people from north County Dublin to come to work in Dundalk. It is also about encouraging people from Dundalk or that part of the north east to work in Belfast or Northern Ireland if job opportunities are provided there. It has to be a two-way street. If this project is meant to be successful by 2030, which I think it will be, it will be successful if we are able to balance the regions. We are creating jobs in those regions but we have to make sure that jobs are easy for people to take and accessible from where they are currently living. If we can do that, this project will be a total success.

I welcome the Minister of State. I have two issues to raise. I think that we should regionalise our energy production. On the west coast, we had the finest wind speeds in the world, yet there is not a single pylon or wind turbine along the west coast. If we regionalised the production of wind energy along the west coast, then we could move our data centres and big energy users to the region.

Getting things done in this country, though we have all these plans and so on, is too cumbersome and slow. If this Government did anything, it should streamline the public service and Civil Service when addressing issues such as planning. A planning application that is sent in at the moment could take five years before the development is complete. In this day and age, that is ridiculous. It is too long and too cumbersome. The Government should look at that.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. As a Donegal man, it would be remiss of me to stand here without mentioning the approval of the mica scheme by the Government. It is welcome and we will speak more about that another time. I am somebody who has taken a keen interest in the national development plans. The concept of the national development plan has come to the fore since the early 2000s. I was always taken with the fact that Northern Ireland was always somewhat blanked out in our national development plans. Similarly, in proposals in Northern Ireland, there was no connectivity in the thinking, mention of interdepartmental activity, or recognition of cross-Border infrastructural or economic needs. I welcome the Government's approach, both in this national development plan and generally. It has been driven by the shared island initiative, in particular. The thinking has changed somewhat.

In my early days as a councillor, I used to occasionally travel to Dublin with a deputation to meet the then Taoiseach to discuss the N2-A5 road project. It used to baffle me that we could not get the same recognition for the north west as other parts of the country enjoyed. Motorways were built to Galway, Limerick, Cork and even to Waterford on routes that carried far less traffic than the N2-A5. However, progress has been made and I compliment the Ministers, North and South, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the Minister for Infrastructure, Nichola Mallon, on their collaboration to move the project forward. We hope to see progress on the N2-A5 in the not-too-distant future.

Similarly, with regard to the rail line and rail review which numerous speakers raised, I was delighted to learn from speaking to the Minister and the Minister in the North that collaboration is now taking place and terms of reference have been set for the rail review. The shared island unit has brought the whole concept of speed rail to the table. Initially, the M1 corridor, to which Senator McGahon referred, was very much on the table but, thankfully, the scope of the review has broadened to include that area of Northern Ireland west of the Bann that was neglected for decades during the Troubles. This has been recognised by the inclusion of the Derry to Belfast line in the review, which is very welcome news. I hope this will bring back the rail connectivity we once enjoyed in Donegal. I never travelled by train to Dublin but some of those who went before me spoke about doing so.

This evening, at a meeting with a number of colleagues from the Irish Central Border Area Network, ICBAN, there was discussion about greenways. There is a strong emphasis in the national development plan on the development of greenways, and rightly so because we have a great tourism trade and the Wild Atlantic Way has really taken off. There are major opportunities for tourism in other areas to take off. These include many regions along the Border. I ask the Minister of State to take back to the Government my view that the local authorities need to take a joined-up approach. There is a bit of a fight taking place to secure funding for different greenways. A master plan is needed for connecting up the various greenways. That would be the smart thing to do. The Government needs to address this issue because there is no point in having nice greenways when there is no connectivity. There has to be national approach to this. I would like to see that approach taken by the Government.

I will share time with Senators Lombard and Conway.

I will be parochial and get straight to the point on the national development plan. I come from Longford and I have two major areas of concern with the NDP. It commits to a funding ratio of 2:1 for public transport versus road projects, which means there will be significantly less funding for roads projects over the next number of years.

I want to highlight the extension of the N4 from Mullingar through Longford towards Roosky and Leitrim. Many Members of this House and the Dáil are prioritising road projects in their local areas. I would ask them to look at a map of Ireland and our road infrastructure. We are seeking balanced regional investment across the regions. Members will be struck by the missing link on the map, namely, the road to Sligo and the entire north west. Significant funding of hundreds of millions of euro has been provided for works on the N5 from Castlebar to Longford and on the N4 between Sligo and Roosky and Leitrim. However, the missing link is the Mullingar to Roosky piece. This project went to preferred route stage in 2008 but was later removed from the national development plan. It was included again when Project Ireland 2040 was announced by the previous Government. The project is now at a stage of identifying, hopefully in January, a preferred route. I want to see it prioritised because the entire north west deserves to have the same infrastructure as the rest of the country.

As I said, the national routes run from Dublin to Waterford, Cork, Limerick and Galway but the north west is the missing link. That applies not only to County Longford but also counties Westmeath, Leitrim, Roscommon, Mayo, Sligo and Donegal. I ask that this project be kept at the top of the agenda? I will raise the matter in the House as regularly as I can for as long as I am a Member of this House. I want to see that road operational.

I will also point to another development in regard to the rail network which was identified in the NDP. This was a project to upgrade the Sligo line, but only as far as Mullingar. Longford town is probably the first commuter town for workers travelling to Dublin. With the advent of working from home, significant numbers of people have come back to Longford and bought houses to work from home and travel to Dublin on one or two days a week. We want to take cars off the road. The proposed investment in rail will only go as far as Mullingar whereas, as I said, the first commuter trains travelling to Dublin on that route start in Longford. That section of the route needs to be prioritised as well.

I thank the Minister of State for his time and ask him to bring the points I raised to government when these matters are being discussed. The most important point is that the N4 route must be the main priority for the Government with regard to roads funding.

Three minutes remain. I ask Senators Buttimer and Lombard to agree to share time.

I thank the Minister of State for being here. This is an important and ambitious plan for Ireland and, more importantly, for the regions. In the context of what the Minister for Transport, Deputy Ryan, is trying to achieve, with a modal shift in traffic from cars, then this plan is to be admired and supported. However, the M20, the Cork to Limerick motorway, is of gargantuan importance to the development of the region in the context of connectivity. I impress upon the Minister of State, the House and the Government the centrality of the Cork to Limerick motorway because if that project does not proceed or if it is diluted or changed, it will cause bother for a generation from an economic and socialisation point of view and from the point of view of investment in people and in the region. As a member of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications, I fully support what the Minister is trying to achieve with, for example, Bus Connects and a light rail service for Cork, but this motorway is of absolute importance.

I thank the Acting Chairman for the opportunity to discuss this very important issue regarding the national development plan. Transportation and agricultural issues have been discussed but health is also a major issue. If we take infrastructure in the so-called regions, the last time a public hospital was opened in the second largest city in the Republic was 1976, the year I was born. That shows the significant deficit we have when it comes to beds and providing for our growing population. The Cork hub has seen significant development and infrastructure such as a new hospital hub is important for the city. It needs growth and potential. The Cork University Hospital, CUH, campus, which Senator Buttimer knows more about than I do, has reached capacity and the site has no further development potential.

We now need to look at a greenfield site for a hospital so we can develop the services required for our population, which is, like all of us, going one way. It is a very significant issue that we have to address. It has been discussed for so long, some 40 or 45 years at this rate, that a new green site for a hospital is not appropriate if we are to have sustainable development, which will not be about making sure that Dublin has all the major hospitals. If the second biggest city does not get a new hospital in the next five years then, unfortunately, regional development will stall very quickly.

I very much thank Members for their contributions and for passionately making the case for projects in their areas. I welcome all their contributions and Senators' ongoing engagement with the revised national development plan. Some important issues were raised. I welcome the opportunity to clarify and elaborate on these in particular.

Now that the NDP has been published, this is a critical time across all Departments in delivering on their strategic goals. In saying that, my Department is now focused on a number of key areas in the process of project delivery. Governance over our investment and ensuring value for money from our public finances in delivering on this NDP is key as we move into the implementation stage. This is something that I have emphasised the importance of, and that my Department has focused on, since the revised NDP was launched last month.

Since the publication of the revised NDP, we have welcomed a framework of external scrutiny and appraisal through the external assurance process, which includes setting up a major projects advisory group and the announcement that five external members will be added to the Project Ireland 2040 delivery board. These steps are essential in ensuring rigour in project assessment and progress of ongoing developments. While we have put these safeguards in place, we must remain agile in the delivery of this plan when challenges occur, and be forward-thinking in our approach to delivery.

The national investment office in my Department is working on improvements in delivery capacity through the build digital project and implementation of the supporting excellence action team, SEAT, report with this strategic foresight lens. This is a whole-of-government plan and one which will require ongoing investment beyond the lifetime of this NDP. I acknowledge the high levels of engagement and commitment in the development of this NDP across all capital Departments. It is also imperative that we continue to engage closely, and work in collaboration, with the construction sector to deliver on our Project Ireland 2040 aspirations.

The investment strategy we have laid out in this NDP will have a transformative impact on the future of our employment opportunities, economic development and regional growth. It will not only deliver the infrastructure requirements for a growing population but will also sustain wages and jobs, modernise our construction sector and allow for regionally balanced growth throughout the country. It will support Housing for All and create the infrastructure required to help us become a climate resilient society.

The purpose of the NDP is to give greater certainty and confidence to citizens of the State in the Government’s commitment to continue to improve in areas such as housing, climate change, schools, hospitals and public transport. It further gives public and private sector organisations confidence that funding commitments will continue over the next decade on an upward trajectory to allow them to plan and equip themselves to deliver. The NDP sets out a clear long-term strategy of planned investments of €165 billion over the next ten years. It is an ambitious plan, one that will provide the infrastructure needed to accommodate a growing population and a digital transition of our economy, and will tackle the climate challenges we face as well as our housing requirements.

In response to concerns about specific projects and programmes that may or may not be mentioned in the plan, the NDP does not aspire to be a comprehensive list of every project that will be delivered over that period. The Government will continue to work with our sectoral stakeholders in formulating sectoral plans for prioritising investments and developing projects for approval and implementation. The NDP will provide this certainty to sectors to allow them to do this planning over the medium to long term.

I thank Senators for their views on ensuring that the NDP delivers value for money for the State and mitigates the risks of cost overruns. The Government can and will continue to learn from the mistakes of the past. The PWC report commissioned to investigate cost overruns in the national children’s hospital highlighted shortcomings in the process and procedures that were in place in the planning, procurement and contract management of that project. Two of the 11 recommendations were also the responsibility of my Department in order to provide a more rigorous assessment of risk and governance prior to projects being approved and to provide an external challenge function to project proposals. As of late 2019, these reforms have been fully implemented in the updated public spending code, with greater focus on the project risks in Government for major projects of more than €100 million, of which we will have approximately 50.

As mentioned earlier, this month I announced a further enhancement of the external challenge function for major projects, with the establishment of the new external assurance process, EAP, to provide independent project scrutiny at key decision stages. In my Department, a new major projects advisory group has been established to further strengthen project management of public projects. It is important to say that the public spending code remains open to ongoing improvement over time, and staff within the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform have a series of improvements in planning to further enhance its effectiveness.

One series of amendments involves updating the public spending code to reflect the enhanced climate ambition. My Department has a full programme of works to ensure that the code is compatible with the climate action plan targets. In the first instance, the priority will be on significantly increasing the cost associated with any release of additional greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This will require primary research to estimate the marginal abatement cost that will be faced by Ireland to achieve an emissions reduction of 51% by 2030.

In addition, my Department has commenced work with the OECD, funded by the EU Commission through the Directorate-General for Structural Reform Support, DG REFORM, technical support instrument, on evolving two further aspects of the public spending code. First, work will be progressed on a new model for assessing the emissions impact of infrastructure investment, including the induced carbon demand brought by new investments. There currently are no plans to address scope 3 or supply chain emissions at this point, but further enhancements to the consideration of carbon in the public spending code will continue to be progressed. Second, the work will examine how the Government should consider and appraise investments that may be vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and how best to protect infrastructure from the effects of climate change.

A significant increase in our climate action investments is planned in the NDP. Some €5 billion in additional carbon tax receipts over the period of the NDP has been allocated to increase capital investment levels in energy efficiency, including a retrofitting programme of 500,000 homes to building energy rating, BER, B2 standard. In addition, €360 million annually will be allocated to active travel programmes for walking and cycling infrastructure and greenways. Major public transport investments are planned in each of the regional cities of Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford, along with improved public transport in rural areas. A strategic all-island rail review will be progressed over 2021 and 2022 to assess the priorities for rail with a focus on access in the north west.

Every Department was required to perform a climate and environmental assessment of every measure they put forward for inclusion in the revised NDP. Seven relevant climate and environmental outcomes were selected by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, in consultation with the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. Departments performed a qualitative self-assessment to determine the potential impact of every spending proposal they put forward may have on each one of these outcomes. The seven climate and environmental criteria are: climate mitigation; climate adaptation; water quality; air quality; waste and the circular economy; nature and biodiversity; and just transition.

With reference to future tenders, interim amendments to the provisions in the public works contracts will be introduced in December which will, within certain parameters, reduce the level of risk of extraordinary price inflation that contractors will have to bear. These will address the period between tender submission and award through limited indexation of the tender price, reduce the fixed price period to 24 months and permit mutual cost recovery within the fixed price period for material price changes in excess of 15%. Boosting delivery capacity in the medium term will also mitigate some of the resource pressures that are currently evident.

To deliver the ambitious NDP, the Government will continue to work collaboratively with the industry through the construction sector group and will offer support as set out in the building innovation report. The recently published Housing for All plan further complements the drive to enhance capacity within the public and private sectors to allow Ireland to deliver its ambitious plans. I am working with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, and other Government colleagues to deliver this enhanced capacity. In my Department, a €2.5 million grant was recently launched to deliver the build digital project, which will be led by Technological University Dublin. This will support the construction industry to deliver future public projects to a higher standard using digital efficiencies.

The capability of the public service to deliver the large-scale capital programme was also reviewed for the updated NDP. The resulting report sets out actions to support excellence and improve co-ordination among various bodies, in addition to the quality and coherence of guidance provided. A range of further measures to improve delivery include the development of the Office of Government Procurement’s commercial skills academy to enhance procurement and introduce further legal and planning reforms.

I thank Senators for their discussion on the NDP. Focus will now turn to ensuring the plan can be delivered in the timely and cost-effective manner to deliver much-needed, sustainable infrastructure for our people. I believe the focus placed on improving governance and supporting those involved in the delivery of these investments will be key in delivering on our ambitious objectives.

Sitting suspended at 6.31 p.m. and resumed at 7.30 p.m.