Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Ceisteanna (48)

Éamon Ó Cuív


48. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his policy priorities for the transport sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22062/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (9 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Transport)

It would be very helpful for the Minister to clarify his role in respect of transport policy and the facets of that policy into which he has an input. What are his transport policy priorities?

There is quite a lot of information to provide in two minutes, but I will do my best.

I will cut the Minister off after two minutes. It is a long answer, but all Members are aware that two minutes are allocated for replies.

My Department's priorities for the transport sector within the capital envelope available to it are to maintain the existing extensive transport networks to ensure quality levels of service, accessibility and connectivity to transport users, and to develop infrastructure and service provision as envisaged under Project Ireland 2040 with a view to meeting the needs of the 2040 population by tackling urban congestion and improving connectivity to the regions, key international ports and airports. In the roads area, my highest priority is the safety of all road users. I am committed to continuing my Department’s work, in conjunction with my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, in improving safety on our roads, above all through the continuing implementation of the Road Safety Strategy 2013-2020.

In terms of investment policy in this area, my priority is the delivery of the significant projects and programmes committed to in Project Ireland 2040, such as rolling out BusConnects-type programmes in Limerick, Galway, Cork, Dublin and Waterford, including significantly enhanced cycling facilities, in line with transport strategies; improved and enhanced Local Link services in rural Ireland; significantly improved funding for the heavy rail network across the country, which is now at steady state; the delivery of major regional roads projects such as the M20 connecting Cork and Limerick, the N4 Collooney to Castlebaldwin project, the M8-N40-N25 Dunkettle interchange in Cork, the N5 Westport to Turlough project, the N5 Ballaghaderreen to Scramoge project, and contributing to the delivery of the A5 project; the development of new infrastructural facilities at the ports of Dublin, Cork and Shannon Foynes; the MetroLink; the DART expansion programme; and the accessibility retrofit programme. These projects and programmes will be complemented by other planned investments to improve the sustainability of our transport system, such as the development of a new national train control centre and the roll-out of strategic cycle networks in the major cities.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The specific priorities in the roads sector continue to be maintenance of the national, regional and local road network in good condition; advancement to construction stage, subject to necessary approvals, of the important national and regional road improvement projects identified in Project Ireland 2040, including those I mentioned; and the appraisal of a range of other projects with a view to prioritising projects for future development.

My priority in respect of delivery of public transport services is to maintain and ensure implementation of governance oversight arrangements for State bodies in the public transport domain and ensure appropriate funding of services that require public financial support. On public transport and active travel policy, my priority is to complete a review of existing policy as committed to under A Programme for a Partnership Government. This review is a significant and substantial resource commitment, and my Department has commenced and substantially completed the research and analysis required to inform the proposed period of public consultation which I expect to launch in the near future. My Department is also preparing proposals for legislation which will enable Ireland to accede to several maritime safety related international conventions.

Brexit has been identified as my Department’s highest strategic risk. It, along with other Departments and key agencies, has been preparing for Brexit for three years and continues to so do through extensive contingency planning and stakeholder engagement. The key transport risks and associated priorities that have been identified in a no-deal scenario include our continued aviation connectivity, the ability of our international road haulage sector to travel to the UK and use it as a landbridge to the Continent, the potential impacts on ports and airports as a result of the significant increase in the control requirements of the Departments of Health and Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Revenue Commissioners to carry out checks on imports once the UK becomes a third country, and continuity of cross-Border public transport services.

In the aviation sector, the policy priorities are contingency planning for UK withdrawal from the single aviation market, in particular for a no-deal Brexit scenario; the capacity of State airports, including the Dublin Airport north runway and capital investment programme, as well as long-term future capacity needs; and the restructuring of the Irish Aviation Authority and Commission for Aviation Regulation. I hope to publish a Bill on this matter before the end of 2019.

I note that equitable fares are not included in the MInister's policy priorities. Does he have any role in ensuring that there are equitable fare structures on public transport throughout the country? Does that fall within his policy remit?

The Deputy will be aware that the NTA sets fares.

The Minister's reply is most useful. We now have a definitive confirmation that the Minister has no policy role in ensuring equity in fares on behalf of the nation. I do not know what we elect Ministers for. Does the Minister have a policy to ensure that all agencies prioritise low carbon footprint public transport - rail and bus - within the money available? Our rail fleet is far more carbon-friendly and has a much smaller carbon footprint than buses. What are his policies in regard to ensuring that our public transport, including bus and rail, has a much lower carbon footprint? Is his policy to prioritise rail over bus because of its lower carbon footprint?

The Deputy will be aware that Government policy is, and has been for some time, not only to have a clean environment policy but also to ensure that public transport is used. As he is aware, there is a significant emphasis on buses as means of public transport in cities. He will also be aware that we will purchase diesel-electric buses after July and no more diesel-only buses will be purchased. It is imperative in public and private transport that everything is subject to climate change examination. That is my policy in that regard.

What about rail?