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Thursday, 7 Nov 2013

Written Answers Nos. 240-250

Sports Funding

Question No. 241 answered with Question No. 8.

Ceisteanna (240)

Jerry Buttimer

Ceist:

240. Deputy Jerry Buttimer asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the total funding for sport in 2014 compared to previous years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47471/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Transport)

The total funding in my Department's Vote for sport in 2014 will be settled when the Revised Estimates Volume is published in December. 

Question No. 241 answered with Question No. 8.

Air Services Provision

Ceisteanna (242)

Jerry Buttimer

Ceist:

242. Deputy Jerry Buttimer asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the expected impact of the abolition of travel tax on Cork Airport; his views on the plans in place to allow Cork Airport to grow its passenger numbers; the reason changes in passenger numbers at Cork Airport are moving in the opposite direction to increasing figures at the other two State airports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47473/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Transport)

Cork and Dublin Airports are owned and managed by the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA), operating under a commercial mandate.  As such, the business of working to increase passenger numbers at Cork Airport is a matter for DAA and Cork Airport management and it is not something in which I have a direct role.   

I should say however, that the elimination of the air travel tax from next April is a clear indication of Government support for air travel and Irish tourism generally. Coupled with the decision to maintain the tourism and hospitality VAT rate at 9%, it is now up to the tourism agencies, the airlines, the airports and all the players in the tourism and aviation sectors to build on these significant Government initiatives. I expect to see all these stakeholders renewing their efforts in marketing and promoting both the existing and the potential additional connectivity with the UK, Continental Europe, the US and other destinations.   In this regard, I strongly welcome recent announcements by both Ryanair and Aer Lingus Regional with regard to the launch of new services at a number of airports, including Cork to East Midlands and increased capacity to Birmingham and Manchester. 

Driver Licence Applications

Ceisteanna (243)

Patrick O'Donovan

Ceist:

243. Deputy Patrick O'Donovan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will provide in tabular form regarding each of the new national driver licence centres, the population of each of the local authority areas in which the centres are based; the number of personnel in each centre on 30 October 2013 who dealt with customer applications; the number of applications on that date; the number of personnel whole-time equivalent who dealt with driver licences in the same local authorities prior to the introduction of the new system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47477/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Transport)

The operation of the National Driver Licensing Service is the statutory responsibility of the Road Safety Authority (RSA).  I have therefore forwarded this request to the RSA for direct reply, and I would ask the Deputy to contact my office if a response has not been received within ten days.

Cycling Facilities Provision

Ceisteanna (244)

Arthur Spring

Ceist:

244. Deputy Arthur Spring asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if the works to be carried under the National Cycle Network Programme 2014-2016 will be tendered to small and medium-sized businesses or carried out in-house by local authorities; and the person who will be awarded the funding. [47491/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Transport)

My Department will expect local authorities who receive funding under the National Cycle Network Funding Programme 2014-2016 to maximise value for money in project delivery as far as possible and to secure all possible savings in the procurement process without compromising standards. Decisions related to project management and delivery will be a matter for the successful authorities under the NCN Programme but I would envisage that projects will be delivered using a mix of in-house staff resources and, when required, outside contractors that will be engaged through a competitive tender process.

Job Creation

Ceisteanna (245)

Brendan Griffin

Ceist:

245. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he has considered the Irish Hotels Federation paper on job creation and training in the Irish hospitality industry; if he is concerned that career opportunities within the sector are not being fully exploited due to current training policy; if he sees a need to focus on craft training; if he is concerned about a possible skill shortage in the future; if he will support the establishment of a tourism training division within Solas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47533/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Transport)

I have received a paper from the IHF entitled "Job Creation and Training in the Hospitality Industry" which sets out the IHF's concerns in relation to training and skills in the Irish Hotel sector. I am also aware that the National Skills Bulletin published in June this year noted that Ireland as a whole has an excess labour supply overall with a low magnitude of skills shortages in some niche areas. The bulletin found that while there are no shortages of chefs in the labour market there are potential retention issues.  

In that regard, it is worth noting that in 2012 Fáilte Ireland provided training and business support to 16,994 trainees, students and, employees and employers in the tourism sector.  In this context, 1,600 students received funding to allow them pursue Hospitality Craft and Tourism courses including Culinary Arts in the Institutes of Technology.

In looking forward to renewed growth in the sector, consideration will have to be given to the appropriate balance of direct enterprise support, entry level training and advanced/professional training. SOLAS, employers, further and higher education providers - particularly the Education and Training Boards - and Fáilte Ireland will all have complementary roles to play in that regard. This is an issue that has been raised as part of the ongoing tourism policy review and is being considered also in that context.

Haulage Industry Cabotage Regulations

Ceisteanna (246)

John Browne

Ceist:

246. Deputy John Browne asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the current situation between Ireland and the UK and Europe relating to Irish hauliers and the problems they are encountering with the authorities when trying to comply with cabotage which is damaging and increasing costs to Irish exporters; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47556/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Transport)

Provisions in relation to road haulage cabotage are set out in EU Regulation 1072 of 2009, which came into effect on 14 May 2010.  Cabotage refers to haulage for hire or reward within a host Member State carried out on a temporary basis by a non-resident operator.  The EU Regulation defines the specific limitations of cabotage, that is, when goods carried in the course of an inbound international journey have been delivered, the haulier may with the same vehicle carry out up to 3 cabotage operations within 7 days, after which he must exit the host Member State.  Cabotage enforcement is a matter for the authorities in each Member State.    

I can appreciate that by introducing a change to previous cabotage provisions that were less prescriptive EU Regulation 1072 of 2009 has affected opportunities for cabotage and in particular there have been concerns raised about the enforcement of these regulation in the United Kingdom. In that regard I have repeatedly raised the concerns of Irish hauliers with my British counterparts, unfortunately to limited effect to date.

It should be emphasised that the cabotage provisions do not in any way affect an Irish operator’s entitlement to carry goods between Member States – international haulage remains fully liberalised, and represents the vast bulk of haulage work carried out abroad by Irish hauliers.

I note that in its White Paper on Road Transport 2011 to 2020 the European Commission intends to review current provisions on cabotage.  I support the idea of an open market for haulage operations and would hope that cabotage can be further liberalised.

Road Safety

Ceisteanna (247)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

247. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will introduce a derogation to the new HGV height restriction for vehicles transporting bulky agricultural products such as hay and straw; if his attention has been drawn to the financial implications for the transport of such products with the current height restriction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47560/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Transport)

Statutory Instrument 366 of 2008 - Road Traffic (Construction and Use of Vehicles) (Amendment) Regulations, 2008 sets the maximum height limit of vehicles in this country at 4.65 metres. The derogation was introduced to allow a five-year period within which vehicles operating at heights in excess of the new limits could be withdrawn from use in Ireland or to allow for the necessary height reductions by operators. The derogation expired on 31st October 2013 and I have no proposals to extend it nor to make any exceptions to the scope of the Regulations.  

This maximum height limit was arrived at following a public consultation process undertaken in 2005. Following this, it was announced in January 2007 that a limit of 4.65m would be introduced. Originally it was proposed that there be a two year derogation for vehicles registered, licensed or in use prior to the introduction of such a limit. Subsequently, following representations from the haulage industry it was agreed that a five year derogation would apply and this applies to those vehicles registered, licensed or in use prior to the 1st November 2008, when Statutory Instrument 366 of 2008 was signed into effect.

Extending this derogation would have the effect of penalising those operators who have adapted their fleet recognising that this derogation was coming to an end, and rewarding those that did not. It is more than six years since the 4.65m limit was announced and the industry has had more than adequate time to accommodate themselves to the new limit.

Road Projects Status

Ceisteanna (248)

Tom Fleming

Ceist:

248. Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will take into consideration a submission from an organisation (details supplied), in respect of the state of a section of the Ring of Kerry road, on the N70 at Ballybrack, Waterville, County Kerry, when drawing up the 2014 programme for national primary and secondary routes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47562/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Transport)

The planning, design and implementation of individual national road projects is a matter for the National Roads Authority (NRA) under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2007 in conjunction with the local authorities concerned.   

Within its capital budget, the assessment and prioritisation of individual projects is a matter in the first instance for the NRA in accordance with Section 19 of the Roads Act.

Noting the above position, I have referred the Deputy’s question to the NRA for direct reply.  Please advise my private office if you don’t receive a reply within 10 working days.

Driver Licence Applications

Ceisteanna (249)

Michael McCarthy

Ceist:

249. Deputy Michael McCarthy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if his attention has been drawn to concerns raised regarding the introduction of a new appointment system at local offices of the National Drivers Licence Service; his views on a person's experience (details supplied) and the measures he will take to address and resolve the matter. [47572/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Transport)

The new National Driver Licensing Service is the statutory responsibility of the Road Safety Authority (RSA) and any queries regarding specific applications should be directed to the Authority.   

Under the terms of the Road Safety Authority (Commercial Vehicle Roadworthiness) Act 2012, the Road Safety Authority (RSA) became the national driver licensing authority as of January this year. Also with effect from 19 January, the new plastic card driving licence was introduced in all EU Member States. Between 19 January and 25 October, local authorities continued to provide customer services relating to driving licences on behalf of the RSA. On 29 October last, the RSA assumed full responsibility for the service.  I understand that there were some teething issues with the launch of the new national driver licensing service on Tuesday 29th October, which the RSA informs me have now been resolved.  

There has been a  high level of demand for the service since it opened.  The RSA has advised me that a number of solutions have been put in place to address the earlier difficulties experienced. These include the assignment of additional staff, the roll out of a further information campaign and the deployment of a manual booking system which applicants can avail of.

 I understand that the RSA is currently working with the Front Office contractor, SGS (Ireland) Ltd. to develop the online booking system which will be deployed across all of its offices within a month.  I have been assured that provision will be made for emergency situations where some capacity will be reserved for customers who need a licence at short notice.

In relation to the specific details of the incident described by your constituent, that is an operational matter for the RSA. I have forwarded it to them for direct reply. If a reply has not been received within ten days, please contact my private office.

Credit Availability

Ceisteanna (250)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

250. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the extent to which he has had discussions with the hotel industry with particular focus on the level of indebtedness and the way this might affect the efficient operation of the sector; if any endeavours have been made to identify the degree to which the lending institutions are willing to meet the ongoing or day-to-day credit requirements of the industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47596/13]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Transport)

I am in regular contact with Hotel Industry representatives and am well aware of the issues and their concerns in these matters. The Government recognises that SMEs are the lifeblood of the economy and will play a vital role in the recovery of employment growth. One of the key priorities of the Programme for Government is to ensure that an adequate pool of credit is available to fund SMEs across all sectors, including the tourism industry. 

The Government has imposed SME lending targets on AIB and Bank of Ireland for the years 2011 to 2013. Each bank was required to sanction lending of at least €3 billion in 2011, €3.5 billion in 2012 and €4 billion in 2013 for new or increased credit facilities to SMEs. Both banks have reported that they achieved their 2011 and 2012 targets and the recent Credit Review Office quarterly report commented “both banks are on track to achieve their €4bn loan sanction targets, assuming the pattern of previous years of a strong Q4 performance is repeated.” AIB and Bank of Ireland are expected to lend to viable businesses both for investment and working capital purposes.

I am advised by my colleague the Minister for Finance that the Credit Review Office is available to assist businesses which have been refused credit. The recent CRO report shows that the Credit Review Office upheld the credit appeal in 150 cases or 55% of cases decided. The upheld appeals have resulted in €18.5m credit being made available to SMEs and farms, protecting 1,521 jobs. This shows that there is a strong prospect of success for SMEs going to the Credit Review Office and I would strongly encourage SMEs refused credit to seek a review by the Office. 

The SME State Bodies Group, chaired by the Department of Finance, was established in 2012 to develop key policy initiatives to support SME access to credit and other forms of finance, and to ensure their implementation. Fáilte Ireland, which is among the bodies represented on the Group, promotes the sector-specific needs of the tourism and hotel industry.

The Minister for Finance and his officials continue to engage with the lending institutions and he has met the Boards of each of the banks in which the State has a shareholding three times since the start of this year. At these meetings, he has emphasised the importance of access to credit for SMEs and the need for an adequate flow of finance to be available to viable small businesses in Ireland.

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