Road Projects Status

Question No. 7 replied to with Written Answers.

Ceisteanna (6)

Charlie McConalogue


6. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the status of progress on the A5 project; the funding that will be made available for this project; when the funding will be made available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47795/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (8 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Transport)

I seek an update on progress on the A5 dual carriageway project from Derry to Aughnacloy. I ask the Minister to clarify the funding commitment from the Government. How much has been spent so far and what is the funding commitment going forward? As the Minister knows, in 2006, as part of the St. Andrew's Agreement, the Government agreed to co-fund this project to a significant extent, along with the British Exchequer. It is essential that we continue that partnership and ensure that the road is built as quickly as possible. The A5 is absolutely essential to opening up the north west, and Donegal in particular. It is very important for our economy and our population.

I thank the Deputy for his question. This is a project in which he is particularly interested and he has raised it on numerous occasions. I will try to update him on what is a moving target but one that is not moving fast enough.

The planning and implementation of the A5 upgrade project is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland authorities.

As is the case for all such capital projects, the A5 upgrade scheme is subject to the planning assessment and approval process in Northern Ireland. Since 2012 there have been a number of legal challenges to approvals related to the scheme and this has led to unavoidable delays in the implementation of the proposed scheme.

A challenge in November 2017 to the decision of the Northern Ireland Department for Infrastructure to proceed with the A5 scheme resulted in that decision being quashed by the High Court at the request of the Department in November 2018.

Following the conclusion of that legal action, the Department for Infrastructure updated project environmental assessments and undertook a public consultation on a number of environmental reports, including an environmental statement addendum in 2019. The Department announced in August that over 260 responses to the consultation had been received and that following on from consideration of the number and nature of the issues raised, the Department had concluded that a further public inquiry is required.

Earlier this month, the Department for Infrastructure announced that the planning appeals commission has been appointed to hold an inquiry into the A5 environmental statement addendum of 2019 and related environmental issues, along with the four updated draft reports, to inform an appropriate assessment under the habitats regulations prepared by the Department. It is understood that the inquiry will be held in February 2020.

The current funding arrangements relating to the A5 are governed by the Stormont House Agreement and implementation plan, A Fresh Start. Under this agreement, the Government is committed to providing funding of £75 million towards the cost of phase 1a of the A5 upgrade scheme once the statutory planning process in Northern Ireland is concluded.

Allowing for the time required for the conclusion of the public inquiry and for a new decision to be taken on whether to proceed with the scheme, together with the possibility of a further legal challenge, the timeframe for the start of construction of phase 1a of the A5 project is uncertain.

In addition, it is envisaged that, as was the case for previous contributions, payments from the South will be based on an agreed protocol linked to the achievement of construction stage milestones. This means that there would be a time lag between the start of construction of the scheme and an initial payment by the South.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

In view of the current state of play regarding the A5 scheme and the timeframes involved, provision is not being made in the 2020 calendar year for funding for the scheme. The Government remains committed to the £75 million sterling contribution and the senior officials group established on foot of the Fresh Start agreement will continue to liaise in respect of the project with a view to delivering on that commitment.

When funding for this project was initially announced as part of the St. Andrew's Agreement in 2006, it included a commitment of £400 million from the Government towards the overall cost of the A5 project and the A8 project from Larne to Belfast. The plan at the time was that A5 dual carriageway from Derry to Aughnacloy would be completed by 2015. Unfortunately, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then. It is now 2019 and the project has not even commenced. It has been plagued by planning difficulties and legal challenges which have given rise to delays. The project has also been delayed by the fact that there is no Government in place at Stormont. A legal workaround had to be found, which took some time. If there are no further delays or challenges, phase 1 could start in 2020.

I seek clarity on the Government's commitment to the project. In 2011, the Government withdrew its commitment to contribute £400 million. This resulted in the Derry to Aughnacloy section of the project being broken up into three phases. As the Minister has outlined, phase 1 from Newbuildings to Strabane is the only phase for which the Government has provided a clear funding commitment. Phases 2 and 3 are not progressing because no funding plan has been put in place for them. What are the Government's plans in respect of funding phases 2 and 3 in order that they can be progressed without any unnecessary delays?

The Deputy is correct in saying that the original Government commitment was £400 million. This commitment was intended to cover a road infrastructure package, including the A5 and A8, to support the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive. However, for administrative reasons, it was decided that the funding would be paid out in respect of the A5. The funding to which we are now committed is £25 million per year for three years. Originally, this funding was earmarked for 2015 to 2017 but now it will be paid in the first three years of the project's construction. I wish to make it clear that the Government's commitment to this project is total. The delays that have occurred are not of our making and while they may be legitimate, they are very frustrating. We have committed the aforementioned funds and will pay them. There is absolutely no pullback on that whatsoever. The fact that there have been delays means that we have not paid any funds over to date but we will pay them when construction commences.

There has been a significant pullback on the part of the Government vis-à-vis the overall funding commitment that was made 2006. As the Minister outlined, the only funding commitment that is in place is for £75 million for phase 1 of the A5 project from Newbuildings to Strabane. That funding will be provided in three lots of £25 million. The A5 project originally covered the full 58 miles from Derry to Aughnacloy but was broken up into three separate phases because of funding restrictions and, in particular, because the Government pulled back on its commitment in 2011. Phase 1 is the only element that is progressing. Construction will commence in the middle of next year if there are no further delays. The Government has committed funding to phase 1 but I have heard nothing from the Minister today about what funding the Government will commit in respect of phase 2, which runs from Strabane to Omagh, or phase 3, which runs from Omagh to Aughnacloy. An agreement needs to be reached by the Government and the authorities in Northern Ireland on the funding for the other two phases. In addition, there is a need for clarity on how much funding we are going to provide. Discussions need to take place now. We need a plan for phases 2 and 3 in order that the work can progress without undue delay. Given the delays to phase 1, we cannot wait for up to four years before committing to the remaining phases. A commitment needs to be provided now. I urge the Minister to engage with the Northern Ireland authorities and the British Government with a view to putting a plan in place for the latter phases of the project. Undoubtedly, there has been a pullback in terms of the financial commitment from the Government, if not in terms of the generic commitment. That commitment must be backed up by a clear plan which will see the entire project delivered in the best possible timeframe.

It would be very wrong if the funding changes which happened as a result of the financial crisis were taken as an indication of a lack of enthusiasm for this project on the part of the Government. That enthusiasm has not been diluted in any way. The Deputy knows that because of the financial crisis that hit this country, the Government decided in 2011 that its commitment to provide funding for the A5 road project would have to be deferred. However, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform indicated that a commitment would be made to provide £25 million per annum in 2015 and 2016. The Northern Ireland Executive decided to go ahead with the construction of two sections of the A5. It was envisaged at the time that the contribution of £50 million from the Republic of Ireland would go towards the construction of these sections. A legal challenge to the Minister for Regional Development's approval for the construction of the two sections was lodged in September 2012.

In 2015, the Fresh Start agreement reaffirmed the Government's commitment to provide funding of €50 million for the A5 project. It also committed an additional €25 million to ensure that phase 1 of the project, which includes new building to north of Strabane, could commence as soon as possible, once the necessary planning issues are resolved by the Northern Ireland authorities. Those commitments remain absolutely undiminished.

I know this is an important project but I cannot be seen to favour it. We have to move on.

I could go on.

Question No. 7 replied to with Written Answers.

Ports Policy

Ceisteanna (8)

James Browne


8. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he has discussed the ownership of Rosslare Europort with his UK counterpart; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [47710/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Transport)

I thank the House, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the Minister for facilitating me in taking this question on behalf of Deputy Browne, who has been called away. We both represent the south east in Waterford and Wexford. Has the Minister discussed the ownership of Rosslare Europort with his UK counterpart? As we are all aware, Rosslare Europort's ownership status is complex.

I thank Deputy Butler for taking this question on behalf of Deputy Browne, who constantly asks me about this issue and pursues it with a welcome vigour.

Rosslare Europort is unique among the State-owned ports as it is not a commercial company operating under the Harbours Acts, but is instead operated on a commercial basis as a division of Iarnród Éireann. Technically, the port forms part of the Fishguard and Rosslare Railways and Harbours Company, which is a 19th century joint venture company, consisting today of Iarnród Éireann on the Irish side and Stena Line on the Welsh side at Fishguard.

The status of the port, and whether its current status potentially inhibits its development, was considered in a strategic review commissioned by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and carried out by Indecon Economic Consultants. The report concluded that the creation of an independent port authority would be extremely difficult, given the port's complex legal structure. Instead, it was recommended that the port remain in public ownership and that the possibilities for increased private sector involvement be investigated. In order to assist Iarnród Éireann's overall consideration of how best to move forward, the company then engaged consultants to assess market interest. The assessment was largely positive in terms of the potential for increased private sector investment in the port. However, it did identify possible implementation issues due to the complicated legislative basis of the port. Following that assessment, the Department sought and received detailed advice from the Office of the Attorney General on the matter. That advice identified a number of legal issues with any such proposal and those issues are under careful consideration by my Department. If there are any new developments, I will consider them.

I have met my former UK counterpart, the then Secretary of State for Transport, Mr. Chris Grayling, to discuss Brexit matters on three occasions since mid-2017. Our discussions fully respected the mandate of the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier. Mr. Grayling outlined key areas of concern for the UK in relation to transport. While I did not specifically raise the issue of ownership of Rosslare Europort, I set out the importance of continued transport connectivity between Ireland and the UK, including ports, aviation, road transport and cross-Border rail services. I wrote to the current Secretary of State for Transport, Mr. Grant Shapps, on 12 August congratulating him on his appointment and seeking an early meeting with him. I received a reply on 1 November indicating that it was not possible to arrange such a meeting during the current parliamentary session and suggesting that I make contact again when ministers are appointed following the UK general election on 12 December. I intend to seek such a meeting and will raise the issue of Rosslare at that meeting when arranged.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

I am satisfied that Rosslare Europort, as a division of Iarnród Éireann, is effectively managing operations at the port and looking at the potential of the port to develop further and take advantage of any new opportunities. The port is targeting growth and new business opportunities and has received the approval of the Iarnród Éireann board for a strategic plan to grow the port’s business. Iarnród Éireann and Rosslare Europort briefed my Department late last year on the company's plans for strategic development of the port over the coming years. This includes plans to invest up to €25 million in customer facilities, port infrastructure and assets, and new technology. The port is engaging with a number of potential new shipping customers to supplement existing operators and offer greater choice to freight and passenger business.

Investment in the port is, in the first instance, a matter for its owner, Iarnród Éireann, which is a commercial State body. While EU state aid rules restrict the scope for direct State investment, the company is exploring appropriate investment possibilities in connection with its strategic development plans.

Brexit will have implications for a number of key ports and airports. Rosslare Europort continues to work closely with my Department and a range of other relevant Government Departments and offices in preparing for the additional border controls and other impacts that will arise from Brexit. In this context, my Department is in frequent contact with Rosslare Port management about the infrastructural requirements and other Brexit impacts on the port. I understand also that Rosslare Europort is actively seeking opportunities arising from Brexit to expand shipping services from the port to continental EU ports.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive answer. He correctly noted that Rosslare Port is unique, and outlined its history and how it was established. It is a joint venture between Iarnród Éireann, which operates Rosslare Port, and Stena Line, which operates Fishguard Port in Wales. These companies are responsible for the management of their respective ports, with the profits and liabilities of each port remaining with the operating company. However, the overall company structure stems from the original UK legislation. I welcome the fact that the Minister will make contact with his UK counterpart after the British general election and that he met the previous UK minister on three occasions.

This area is extremely problematic for a number of reasons. First, the complex ownership structure of Rosslare Europort has very much harmed the port's economic development. While all other ports in Ireland are owned and operated by an independent port authority, or by a local authority in the case of smaller ports, Rosslare Europort's status is much less clear. Second, given the port's strategic importance to the island of Ireland, it would be wrong to leave it in the control of a foreign country, particularly as that country prepares to exit the European Union. I acknowledge that this is a very complex issue, but it is vital that Ireland regains control of this port to ensure it plays a role in preserving our export capacity.

I have some sympathy with what the Deputy says, although I do not think the way the port operates creates any great obstructions. The structure of the port is strange and dates back over 150 years. If Deputy Butler or Deputy Browne has any concrete evidence that that structure is causing problems, I would be happy to ask my officials to examine the matter with a view to introducing legislation both here and in the UK to change the structure, if it is beneficial to do so. At the moment, while it is somewhat archaic and anomalous, the fact that Iarnród Éireann is running Rosslare Port does not seem to be an immediate disadvantage. The Deputy will be aware that there is a master plan in place for investing a large amount of money in the port. That investment by Iarnród Éireann does not seem to be hindered in any way by the port's peculiar structure and is a vote of confidence in the future of Rosslare Port. It includes an investment of €1.6 million from profits in 2018, and other investments which I can go into further.

I take the Minister's point that the port's structure dates back over 150 years but, unfortunately, with Brexit looming, the uncertainty around the future of the port must be addressed. I refer to another issue relating to the south east, which I also raised in the Dáil yesterday. The region has the highest unemployment rate in the country, according to the latest data from the Central Statistics Office. Unemployment in the south east stands at 7.3%, which is 2.1% above the national average. The importance of Rosslare and Waterford ports from an economic point of view cannot be underestimated. Waterford Port has a great opportunity to move forward because it does not trade with the UK directly and is not in competition with Rosslare Port. It is important to make that point. We need certainty on the future of Rosslare Port in light of Brexit.

I am not unsympathetic to Deputies who make the case for the south east. Developments in the region are promising and I continue to encourage them in any way I can. The opportunities for Rosslare Port are recognised by the proposed investment of €25 million by Iarnród Éireann. That investment is a vote of confidence in Rosslare Port and its future. Brexit is not a completely negative story for every port in Ireland. I gather that Rosslare Port is looking for potential opportunities arising from Brexit. It is completing the final stages of a master plan, which includes investment of €25 million. Some €1.8 million will be spent every year for the next five years on general renewal and maintenance. A further €12.5 million will be spent on the extension of berths 3 and 4 from 190 m to 220 m, with a double link span to cater for longer ships in future and two-tier vessels. That sounds like confidence to me. Some €1.5 million will be invested in information technology and creating a smart and automated port which will include vehicle recognition systems, trailer tracking systems, compound management and check-in and check-out systems. A further €3.5 million will be spent on configuration for future requirements.

That is an indication of the fact that Rosslare has a bright future.

Local Improvement Scheme Funding

Ceisteanna (9)

Brendan Smith


9. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will introduce a funding programme for the local improvement scheme, LIS, in 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48137/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Transport)

The LIS is of particular importance to rural communities and parishes. There is often a misconception regarding whom it benefits. In many instances, it is not two family homes located along the road or laneway but, rather, up to a dozen. Unfortunately, when the Taoiseach was Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport he abolished the funding stream for the LIS. In recent years, some small-scale funding has been made available through the CLÁR programme, but it is not even nearly adequate. In light of the importance of the LIS to rural communities, I ask the Minister to put in place a funding stream for it in 2020 as was the case for many decades.

The decision taken by the Taoiseach while Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport was forced upon him by financial circumstances. I have no doubt that he did not wish to make the decision he did. The Deputy is aware that the LIS is back in existence.

The maintenance of roads not taken in charge by local authorities is the responsibility of the relevant landowners. However, section 81 of the Local Government Act 2001 provides the statutory basis for the LIS. Under the scheme, funding can be provided to local authorities by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport for the construction and improvement of non-public roads, that is, roads not taken in charge by local authorities, which meet the very specific criteria set out in the Act. A contribution from the beneficiaries is required in all cases. Section 81 states that assistance by a road authority under the LIS is conditional on a financial contribution by the relevant parties. It further provides that after consultation with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and with the consent of the Minister for Finance, another Minister may make a grant to a road authority in respect of non-public roads in accordance with a scheme made by that Minister. As such, State assistance may be provided under the statutory LIS, and up to 2012 my Department provided ring-fenced funding for the scheme. However, due to the major cutbacks in roads funding arising from the financial crisis, it was necessary for the Department to stop providing dedicated funding for the LIS in 2012.

Although there was no separate allocation for the LIS from 2013 to 2017, local authorities could use a proportion of their discretionary grant for the LIS. The allowable proportion of discretionary grant was 7% in 2013. It was increased to 15% from 2014 onwards. This approach was taken because it was considered that councils were best placed to decide whether to concentrate the limited grant funding available on public roads or operate an LIS for non-public roads.

In September 2017, my colleague, the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, reintroduced dedicated funding for the LIS. He continues to fund the scheme. In light of the significant funding being put into LIS by that Department and the pressing need to direct resources into maintaining and renewing public roads, it was decided that the option of allocating a proportion of the discretionary grant to LIS would no longer apply from 2018. I am open to discussing the matter with the Minister, Deputy Ring.

I would very much like ring-fenced funding to be allocated to each local authority. The Minister referred to councils being in a position to use the discretionary funding. Deputies are aware that the non-national road budget has been cut back through the years and that the county and regional road networks take priority, which is understandable.

Rural regeneration involves encouraging people to live in rural communities. One of the basic requirements of so doing is that people have an adequate road to their home. We are depriving people of the opportunity to build new homes on sites that may be given to them by their parents or siblings.

The LIS is a great investment in rural communities. I appeal to the Minister to reintroduce the ring-fenced funding that was available in bad and better financial times through the decades. It would benefit many communities and individuals and is essential for service providers and emergency services. In many instances, the roads also lead to community facilities and tourist attractions.

I understand what the Deputy is seeking. We have a situation which was probably not envisaged some years ago, namely, that another Minister has introduced funding for the LIS. I am open to discussions with the Minister, Deputy Ring, regarding the LIS and how it is being implemented. I must be conscious of the fact that funding for public roads remains below the level needed to achieve steady state. Almost €50 million has been allocated to the LIS by the Department of Rural and Community Development since 2017. As the Deputy will be aware, we are still funding the community involvement scheme. The fact that the Minister, Deputy Ring and I are in a position to fund the LIS means it would be useful for us to co-ordinate on this matter such that only one Minister distributes money in this way. It is of no comfort to the Deputy, but the intervention of the Minister, Deputy Ring, has released funds from my Department to be spent on public roads.

I would very much welcome an increase in funding, no matter what Department it comes from. We need a multiple of what is currently being allocated. In my county of Cavan, there is a ten-year waiting list. In the neighbouring county of Monaghan, there is an eight-year waiting list. There are people living in houses along laneways and roads that emergency services would not be able to access in the case of an emergency. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that the funding provided in 2020 is a multiple of what has been provided in recent years.

The LIS has not gone away. In fact, it has been revived. Since 2017, the Department of Rural and Community Development has allocated significant funds to it. In 2017, €17.539 million was allocated, €20.8 million in 2018 and €10 million so far in 2019, giving a total of €48 million. A very substantial amount of funding has been allocated to the LIS. The Deputy stated that not enough has been provided and he does not care from which Department the funding comes. I do not particularly care from which Department it comes. It is a worthy scheme. I understand the point being made by the Deputy. It would be wrong to suggest or conclude from what he is saying that the LIS has been abolished. As he is aware, funding for the LIS has been distributed by a Department other than mine. I reiterate that this is an anomaly. I promise to discuss the matter with the Minister, Deputy Ring, and ensure a co-ordinated approach is taken.

Regional Road Network

Ceisteanna (10)

Brendan Smith


10. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will provide a substantial increase in funding for the non-national roads network in 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48138/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (5 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Transport)

As the Minister is aware, there is no rail network in south Ulster and a consequent total dependence on the road network. In many instances, the regional road network in counties such as Cavan and Monaghan is equivalent to the national road network in other counties. There should be a substantial increase in funding for the non-national road network in light of its crucial importance in rural Border counties such as Cavan and Monaghan.

As I indicated in response to a previous question from Deputy MacSharry, the improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is the statutory responsibility of each local authority, in accordance with the provisions of section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. Works on these roads are funded from local authorities' own resources, supplemented by State road grants. Regional and local road grant allocations are finalised following the publication of the Revised Estimates Volume and take into account the expenditure outturn on projects and programmes in the preceding year.

As Minister, I have to work within the budget available to my Department. The 2020 allocations will reflect that. That being said and while the Revised Estimates Volume has not been published as yet, I anticipate additional funding for regional and national roads in 2020.

As in previous years, my objective will be to allocate funding to eligible local authorities on as equitable a basis as possible taking the length of the road network and traffic factors into account. The main focus of the grants will continue to be maintenance and renewal of the regional and local road network with a view to making progress towards steady-state levels of expenditure.

The allocations under the various grant programmes will be announced as early as possible in the new year.

In addition to increasing the moneys available for roads, it is important to manage those moneys effectively. In this context the Department reviews and updates its memorandum on grants for regional and local roads on a regular basis. This document seeks to ensure good value for money in respect of road grant expenditure.

In recent years, my Department has also supported a road asset management system, MapRoad, for regional and local roads. As part of this process, a road management office, RMO, was established as a shared service between the 31 local authorities. The RMO and the Department have been working with local authorities to ensure that the MapRoad pavement management system includes: an up-to-date road schedule of public roads; a record of all pavement-related works; and information on road surface types and road pavement condition.

The road pavement condition information generated by the MapRoad system forms the basis for the NOAC performance reports.

The objective of the MapRoad pavement management system and the NOAC reports is to provide the data needed for evidence-based prioritisation and management of both annual work programmes and multi-annual programmes by each local authority in their capacity as the statutory road authority for their area.

I thank the Minister. He is aware that the two counties I have the privilege to represent depend very much on indigenous business. Much of our employment is through small and medium-sized enterprises. Many of those enterprises are located along county and regional roads. To try to assist business in reducing costs in the very challenging time that lies ahead for enterprise in the Border region due to Brexit and other challenges, I appeal to the Minister, as I did in the past, to ensure that infrastructure is brought up to a better standard. As we know, good infrastructure helps to reduce costs for business and increase competitiveness. When deciding on the allocations for the non-national road network, I appeal to the Minister to take into account the particular needs of counties such as Cavan and Monaghan that have no rail network and are totally dependent on transferring goods and persons by road.

I will take what the Deputy has said into account when considering these allocations. The good news obviously is that I anticipate an increase to be announced in January. I cannot make any specific promises about where that money will go, but obviously it is a matter of great importance for the Deputy's area and others.

We need to recognise that the size of the national, regional and local road network, at approximately 100,000 km, which is twice the European average per capita, will always create funding pressures for the Exchequer and local authorities. The funding cutbacks during the recession had a major impact on the maintenance and improvement of the road network. Overall grant funding dropped from €2.3 billion in 2008 to €753 million in 2015. Funding for regional and local roads dropped from €604 million to a lowest point of €320 million in 2015.

We are under pressure of time. Deputy Brendan Smith has kindly forfeited his second supplementary question.

National Transport Authority Staff

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.

Ceisteanna (11)

Marc MacSharry


11. Deputy Marc MacSharry asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the NTA offers significantly higher salaries on average to external agency staff than it does to permanent members of staff; his views on whether this is appropriate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48146/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (7 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Transport)

I ask Deputy MacSharry to forfeit his 30 seconds and ask the Minister to answer the question immediately .

It is question No. 11.

I have forfeited my 30 seconds to save time. The Minister should go ahead.

My Department has been working closely with the NTA about strengthening its staffing position so that it is robust and sustainable. It is essential that the NTA is adequately resourced to successfully deliver its pipeline of key strategic infrastructure projects. These are large in scale and ambition, for example, BusConnects, MetroLink and the DART expansion.

The NTA is resourced by a mix of permanent staff and outsourced placements. At present, there are 148 outsourced placements in the NTA. Each of these people is an employee of one of the service providers that the NTA has engaged through public procurement procedures. As employees of a service provider, the salary, pension and any other payments to these personnel are matters for the relevant service providers and not the NTA.

The Deputy may recall that the NTA was established in 2009, during a period of great economic difficulty for the State. In this context, significant constraints were placed on the agency with regard to resourcing. Yet, while these constraints remained in place until 2018, the NTA’s remit expanded significantly in the intervening period. For example, it assumed statutory responsibility for integrated ticketing including the Leap card scheme, regulation of vehicle clamping and local and rural transport, all of which put further pressure on the NTA with regard to staffing levels. As a result, the NTA came increasingly to use outsourced placements to assist it in fulfilling its remit, particularly in the planning and implementation of major strategic programmes.

In 2017, my Department sought, and later received, sanction for increased staffing for posts that the NTA itself had identified as being a priority. My Department also encouraged the NTA to make a broader analysis of its overall staff resourcing position. This was so that the NTA would: critically assess its staffing position taking account of its existing and legacy position; identify its business needs into the future, especially having regard to the expanded investment programme it would be managing over the coming years; and develop a staffing plan that could successfully addresses these matters.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

This resulted in the NTA producing its strategic financial plan, which included a strategic staffing section outlining the NTA's requirements in terms of filling key posts to implement major transport programmes. The NTA set its plan over the period 2018 to 2023, and structured it over three consecutive phases. Overall, this plan involves a process of internalising a number of outsourced positions and ensuring that the NTA is adequately resourced to deliver on the key capital investment projects that it will be managing over the coming years, such as MetroLink and DART expansion.

Phase 1 of the plan for 2018-2019 has been sanctioned and is being implemented. Constructive engagement is ongoing with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and with the NTA about sanction for Phases 2 and 3. Phase 2 envisages 22 new positions and, in addition, internalising 42 currently outsourced roles. If approved, it is expected that these internalisations will result in a significant cost saving of €1.5 million in 2020 and €3 million in a full year.

Certain programmes will always require a number of skilled outsourced placements to supplement teams with specific skills, but the NTA's aim, strongly supported by Department, is to transition to a more permanent staffing model to deliver long-term stability. The aim is for the NTA to have sustainable staffing arrangements which leave it appropriately resourced to effectively and efficiently carry out its functions both now and into the future, and which are consistent with public service pay and numbers policy.

The NTA has 114 staff who are being paid an average of €73,000. By the Minister's own admission, a further 148 staff are being paid €140,000, or twice as much. This is the organisation we charge with looking after major public transport schemes and we are throwing good money after bad.

Earlier we discussed the commute misery out to Fingal. The Minister actually said that public transport had become a great success. In what universe does the Minister live to think that? Back here on Earth, people see the reality of the commute misery every day while we double the price for external consultants at the same time as arguably paying a pittance to some of our own staff and the situation continues to get worse. The Minister just does not seem to get it. He does not get the public transport misery and nightmare we have while throwing good money after bad. What will we do to take control of the Department and stop wasting money in this fashion?

I think what we will do is get back to topic. The NTA has a low number of permanent staff with the biggest increase taking place in 2018 when 114 permanent staff were employed, compared with 91 for each of the previous years. In December 2018, the NTA received delegated sanction from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for 140 permanent staff for 2019, an increase of 26 on the number of staff sanctioned for 2018. The NTA also has 148 outsourced placements from third-party service providers, necessary to deliver its strategic programme. Discussions on staffing requirements for 2020 are ongoing with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

The high volume of outsourced placements, which make up 57% of the staff represents a significant cost for the NTA. On average an outsourced placement is double the cost of a permanent staff member. Within the premium cost of the use of outsourced personnel over direct NTA employees is VAT at 23%, which cannot be reclaimed by the authority. The resourcing changes planned for 2020-2021 will deliver a resourcing mix change over the five-year period from 2018 to 2023 from a ratio of nearly 43:57 to a ratio close to 68:32 in favour of NTA direct employees.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.