Tuesday, 21 May 1985
Dáil Éireann Debate
An Ceann Comhairle: There is an amendment in the name of An tAire Comhshaoil. I understand that Deputy O'Rourke will take 15 minutes, Deputy Nolan is taking the next 15 minutes and Deputy S. Byrne the next ten minutes.
Mrs. O'Rourke: It gives me great pleasure to speak to the motion put down by our spokesman for the environment, Deputy Molloy. It is evidence of the Government's lack of understanding and the lack of rapport between the Government and the rural community that their amendment to our motion has nothing whatsoever to do with the topic. The Government's amendment is as follows:
“welcomes the commitment of the Government to roads as demonstrated by the publication of the new Road Plan which contains a realistic development programme, the provision of substantially increased State funding and the announcement of the first ever medium term financial commitment for improvement and maintenance covering the period 1985 to 1987”.
With respect to the Minister for the Environment, that amendment has nothing to do with the terms of our motion. Therefore, in the strict sense of the word, it is not an amendment. It deals with funding for national primary, national secondary and regional roads. Nowhere in the national plan, or in any statement by the Minister, can I locate any direct reference to county road funding. When our spokesman winds up this debate tomorrow evening, he will be suggesting that the condition of our county roads has deteriorated to such an extent that special funding will have to be allocated for their maintenance and repair.
This problem has become especially evident in the past two and a half to three years during which funding to local authorities has decreased dramatically. The allocation of funding under the various sub-heads has also fallen and the county roads, being the bottom line, are the main area where sub-standard funding has shown up dramatically.
This is in the light of the main developmental  work and the many fine undertakings of ring roads, by-pass roads and bridges. All of this work is very worthy. Every Government should have a national road plan. In County Westmeath under the previous Government we had the commencement of the by-pass road around Athlone and the bridge over the Shannon. This work is well on its way with CPOs and various other undertakings. That is fine until you consider that, within a few yards of any primary road or secondary road, conditions can be deplorable and practically like the trenches in World War One.
The roads are in a state of disrepair and there are potholes. It may seem to some people that it is not important to talk about potholes, but there are roads on which you cannot drive a car or a creamery truck. In some areas of our country the CIE school buses will not collect children at pick up points because of the serious deterioration in the physical structure of the county roads. The increase in vehicular traffic is evidence of what might be called affluence. Most farmers and householders have a car. A son or a daughter goes into the nearest town or centre of employment daily in the car. These are welcome signs of life going on and of growing affluence.
For some years past the county roads have been subjected to a volume of traffic which was never anticipated when they were being built. It was never anticipated that they would have to carry heavy vehicular traffic. People dealing in sand pits use the county roads to get to their main areas of employment. Roads are being used for purposes which were never anticipated. We all welcome and applaud a national road plan and the funding it brings in its wake from the EC. When we travel the highways and see signs saying that the road work is being funded by such and such an EC fund, we are glad and we say: “So much for development”.
In many instances that funding cannot be taken up by the county council for that year. They have a particular span of 12 months in which to spend the money and the CPOs take much longer to work out  than was originally anticipated. In our county there is an example of one recalcitrant land owner holding up progress. That means the funding for the road cannot be allocated. I know the Minister will say that is one compartment for funding for the national primary routes and it cannot be touched for the county roads. We accept that it is one particular funding. We cannot accept that there is no national allocation of funding for the county roads. The position has become serious over the past two and half to three years. The Minister has many meetings in his own constituency and many county roads too. If he goes to a political meeting, or a community meeting, or a meeting dealing with a group water scheme, or a parents' meeting, the first topic which will come up after the main item has been discussed is the state of the county roads.
It is easy to point to the huge amount of work being carried out, but that does not satisfy the people who live on the county roads. Why should it? They welcome the development of the national roads. They are living within sight and sound of gigantic road works but the conditions of their county roads are more appropriate to the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. They find increasingly difficult to drive on these roads. I hesitate to bring in a rural-urban slant but, because of their lack of regard for this very important matter, the Government are showing disrespect for and neglect of the mainly rural population whom these roads serve.
The problem has become very acute and I am sure Deputies from both sides of the House will tell the Minister what their engineering staffs have told them about the state of their county roads. In County Westmeath which I represent the maintenance cycle for the county roads is the worst in Ireland. We should be running in a ten to 12 year cycle, but I have been informed reliably that we are on a 35 year cycle of funding for maintenance. When we think of that and the amount of traffic on the roads, and the number of people using them, we wonder why it has been allowed to continue to  such an extent. No Government who say they have a national road plan can really be seen to have one if they have not got a plan for the funding of the county roads. This is a very serious example of the way in which the powers of the local councillors have been diminished over the past few years. Local councillors are accountable to the electorate. We will be going about knocking on doors and seeking votes shortly, we will be asked questions about activity into which we we have had no input and for which we have had very little responsibility in regard to funding.
A good deal of work and research needs to be undertaken in the matter of the reform of the structure and the developed powers of local councillors. One way in which a councillor could be accountable to the electorate would be by his being able to say that the local authority would be spending X amount on certain roads in 1986 or 1987 or in whatever would be the appropriate year. We would visualise the funding being allocated from central funds but being divided in accordance with the wishes and directions of locally elected members with the help of the expertise of the engineering and administrative staffs of the local authorities. Only in this way could the actions of councillors be seen to have effect. The electorate are infuriated because the roads have been allowed to deteriorate so much. It is small comfort to them to say that by way of EC and national funding £28 million will be spent on roads in County Westmeath in the coming five years. A sum of that order is to be spent on a national by-pass route for Athlone and also for Mullingar and for a bridge across the Shannon but that will not have any off-spin so far as the county roads are concerned. I am not asking that the fund be touched. In reality it cannot be, but we are asking that there be a total review in each county. Our aim would be that the engineering staff of every county council would undertake a complete review of the state of each county road within their area of responsibility. They would note when a road had last been repaired and would prepare a  programme of work for the following few years outlining when each county road should be repaired. The very fabric of life is involved here. The plain people of Ireland live along the county roads. We must not allow our rural areas to become depopulated. In this connection it is worth quoting a couple of lines from Goldsmith's, The Deserted Village.
The rush to the urban centres is fine. So also is the rush to find work, to avail of social services and so on, but at the end of the day one must travel the roads. We are doing very badly so far as the rural population is concerned by reason of the way in which we have neglected our roads. However, by way of this motion we are taking steps to remedy that situation. We are asking that the Government commit themselves to maintaining our roads and we are saying that in the event of their failure in this area, we intend to ensure that when we return to office, and before then when we hope to have a majority representation in the county councils, one of the main matters of debate within council chambers will be the repair and maintenance of the roads. Funding for this work must be considered urgently and realistically.
It is easy to say that more powers will be bestowed on elected members but to date neither the outgoing members nor the potential members have seen any evidence of what the Minister intends doing in terms of these devolved powers. Outgoing members who will be re-elected will be returning to office on the same terms as those applying when they leave office and new members will be full of hope in regard to making a real input into their communities; but the present position is that local authority members have very little input into the community. In 1983, for instance, responsibility for water service charges and other charges was removed from the elected members and passed to non-elected people in the  form of management and staff of urban councils.
By putting down this motion we are giving practical exposition to two very real areas. First, we are offering proposals in respect of funding and, secondly, we are proposing the involvement of local authority members and the restoring to them of real power.
Mr. Nolan: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this very important motion and I am pleased that the Minister is present in the Chamber to listen to our arguments. I am sure he is well aware of the feelings of his own party and of local representatives in regard to the matter to which the motion relates. I understand that these feelings were made very clear to him at the recent Labour Party conference.
Ireland depends on a road system to a far greater extent than is the case of most of our European neighbours. Because of our relatively small and widely dispersed population we are unable to maintain an economically viable rail network. Therefore, we cannot be compared in that respect with our European neighbours. We are very dependent on a proper road structure. While funding is being provided for national and secondary roads, funding for main and county roads has been virtually cut off. That is the main reason for our tabling this motion.
When replying the Minister may state that the Government have provided money for national roads. That is so but our point is that the life and soul of rural Ireland is dependent on our main and county roads and this is the area in which funding has been short. Any county councillor or county engineer will confirm that the past three years have been a nightmare for them. They are trying to maintain a road structure on a skeleton budget.
It is interesting to note that 87,000 of the 92,000 kilometres of road in the country are main and county roads. National primary and national secondary roads amount to 5,200 kilometres. Therefore, 94 per cent of our roads is comprised  of main and county roads and these roads are used by 65 per cent of total traffic. Despite these figures there is not a corresponding allocation in finances from the Department of the Environment.
In 1982, for example, Carlow County Council spent £750,000 on main and county roads. The block grant was £96,000. The council had to try — and I emphasise the word “try”— to make up the balance, but they were unable to do so. In 1983 the total expenditure on main and county roads in Carlow was £865,000 and the grant was £131,000. There was no increase in the block grant for 1984 but there has been a £15,000 increase in 1985. The increase between the years 1982 and 1985 has totalled £60,000; but considering that the inflation levels respectively for the years 1982 to 1984 were, 17.1 per cent, 10.4 per cent and 8.6 per cent and that the projected figure for 1985 is 5.6 per cent, it is obvious that the funding coming from the Department is not keeping pace with inflation. Consequently, something must go by the board.
Regrettably, there is an obvious urban rural divide in this matter. While money is provided for national primary and secondary roads the small farmer and business man is being made to suffer. With our entry to the EC farmers regained some kind of prosperity. With larger tractors, combine harvesters and cattle being transported to marts by lorry, farmers are using bigger and better machinery. However, for the past four years the condition of some of the county roads and smaller roads taken over by county councils have not kept pace with this development and consequently many farmers have had to go to great expense in order to maintain their roadways in some condition. In one part of Carlow, on the Carlow-Kilkenny border, farmers had to come together and repair a two and a half mile stretch of road themselves.
The repeated shortfall of funds for the maintenance of engineering services during the past three years has resulted in the inevitable deterioration of our regional and county road system. Serious structural damage has been caused to  many roads particularly in the weak subgrade areas. There has been a notable increase in the potholing of road surfaces in many areas. This is a recognised factor indicating the potential failure of the whole road structure. One does not have to travel far outside of Dublin to come across the pothole syndrome.
Engineering staff in county councils are seriously concerned that unless adequate financing is provided for next year whole sections of roads will have to be cordoned off. Many county councils have had to change the cycle of bitumen dressing of road surfaces from the accepted ten years, which is the norm, to an 18 years cycle in the case of Carlow and to a 35 year cycle, as my colleague, Deputy O'Rourke, stated. The effect on our road surfaces of chemicals and sprays used by farmers will make the problem worse. Repairs to frost damaged regional roads in many counties has ground to a halt. Hedge cutting, trimming, footpath and drainage improvements works are a thing of the past in most counties.
The steady growth of traffic on the one hand and the lack of sufficient funding by central Government has resulted in our having one of the poorest road network systems in the EC, if not the poorest. There was a time when Bord Fáilte took pleasure in advertising in English magazines and newspapers about the quiet Irish roads. They encouraged tourists to come and see how quiet they were for themselves. If there is not an improvement in the standard of our roads they may well be advertising the quiet Irish roads again with photographs. However, with all the potholes they could well be for fishermen.
The National Planning Board concluded that foreign borrowing was an appropriate means of financing productive investment by the public sector. This type of expenditure has the double effect of improving the quality of our infrastructure and employing workers in projects which have a high labour content. Any such activity has the crucial merit of immediate and direct employment creation.
Priority was given recently to the  national primary and secondary roads due mainly to the fact that most of the funding for these roads was provided by the European Regional Fund. The destruction and disintegration of our roadways is a matter of serious concern to all our elected representatives. I am sure that in the run up to the local elections on 20 June those who put their names forward for election will hear more about this. It is very unfair for those contesting elections to have to take the brunt of the public's distaste for the fact that this Government are not providing sufficient funding. It is all very well to say that major projects are about to be undertaken in most counties, but how does one explain building a bypass for £2,500 million while two miles down the road there are five or six potholes? It is difficult to explain that such money is provided by Europe when a road a half a mile away is allowed to deteriorate. I ask the Minister to seriously consider the question of funding for local authorities.
We depend on our road system to a far greater extent than most of our European neighbours. The road network accounts for 96 per cent of all passenger traffic and 88 per cent of freight traffic. Consequently its development forms an important part of our overall inland transport policy. I do not have to mention how expensive transport is in Ireland. If we do not provide proper roads for businesses more and more of them, regrettably, will find their way towards the larger urban areas such as Dublin. That would be a mistake. If we do not decentralise, more and more people will graduate towards the bigger cities; and Exchequer funding will be provided for those cities which, in turn, will add to the problem of the urban-rural divide.
Reports state that the cost of resurfacing country roads is between £20,000 and £40,000 a mile. To give a county council £90,000 or £100,000 in a block grant knowing the amount of road surfaces in each county is an insult to their and the county engineers' intelligence. As we have stated, the Minister must, as a matter of urgency, provide proper financing  for our county roads. If not, not only will our tourist industry be at stake but also our economy. It is no joy for elected members in Kerry, Cork, Waterford, Wexford and other major tourist counties to put up with the ridicule of those who visit these areas on holiday. Our national tourist board have repeatedly called on Ministers for the Environment to upgrade our road system to some kind of international standard. While it is fine to say that the national primary and secondary roads are improving in international terms, the same cannot be said of county roads. I ask the Minister to look seriously at what Fianna Fáil are proposing in this motion.
Mr. S. Byrne: I am pleased to have been given an opportunity to speak on this very important motion. The effect of the Government's cutback on financial support for local authorities is more evident in the county roads system than in any other area. The results are to be seen throughout rural areas.
The Government inherited a county road system that was developed over the decades at the expense of ratepayers and taxpayers. However, some roads are now almost impassable and that is a national scandal. We all know that if the pathways leading to our houses are allowed to fall into a bad state of disrepair it costs ten times as much to repair them than if they had been repaired when they first showed signs of falling into disrepair. County roads account for 80 per cent of the road network and I cannot for the life of me understand how any Minister could allow his officials to dictate to him that most of the funds should be ploughed into main roads, building bypasses and so on.
Perhaps some Department officials spend too much time in Brussels and feel that when their counterparts come over here they would like to see fancy roundabouts, bypasses and so on. We owe the freedom we now enjoy to the people who live on boreens and we probably would not be here this evening but for the humble people of rural areas. However, the Government seem to regard those  people as second class citizens and do not worry about their safety or need to have a proper road to do their business.
It is time to take a hard look at the whole system of financing local authorities, especially in connection with county roads, and common sense is all that is needed. The Minister is from a rural constituency and he must be well aware of the state of county roads, particularly over the last two years. They are a nightmare, even for careful drivers. Even if you are not travelling fast, the suspension of a car can be damaged by going into a pothole. Although there are millions of tonnes of concrete being poured into roads, very little employment is created. The Department of the Environment can trot out figures about money being ploughed into our roads but it is not going to county roads. We are creating speed tracks for people in trucks who drive at 80 miles per hour in a 45 miles per hour zone. Those driving stolen cars also drive very recklessly on long straight roads. We must have more planning in the area of county roads or they will all be closed eventually and this point has been made by county engineers.
Local authorities have no money to trim hedges and cut weeds. This is only done on main roads where there is no need to do it as many of those roads are as wide as this Chamber. Department officials should drive around the country in May when the weeds are six feet high which means that drivers of school buses carrying 60 children have great difficulty in negotiating bends. They are responsible for the safety of these children. If these hedges were cut it would provide employment as our dole queues are getting longer every day and our potholes are getting bigger. There are highly qualified engineering and outdoor staff in local authorities but there is no money to provide employment for them. It is like the health boards, red tape, officialdom and regulations but nothing happening. People in rural areas pay their rates and taxes and they are entitled to the same consideration as the people speeding from Cork to Dublin in high powered cars. When we get money from Brussels  we should spend it where it is most needed. I know the Minister has plenty of common sense and I urge him to forget about the officials in his Department — he is the boss and he should get on with the job. People in rural areas are living in misery and the shoneens in the Department do not care. It is a shame and a scandal that local authority workers are unemployed because there is no money available. I do not care whether the money comes form Brussels or from the taxpayer we must get our priorities right.
I appeal to the Minister, even at this late stage in the financial year, to divert 50 per cent of the money allocated for main roads to county roads and give some hope to the people in rural areas. I would not drive a school bus for all the tea in China as it must be a nightmare. Who cares? There have been many near misses and some day there will be a calamity. When that happens, of course the local councils will be blamed but it is the officials in the Department who are really to blame. They do not care how many lives are lost as long as a nice impression is created for officials coming from Brussels to inspect the results of the few miserable millions they gave us over the last few years. A good county road system is necessary especially to accommodate our basic industry, argriculture, which has been sold down the river by the Government. Modern day machinery necessary for agriculture is highly dangerous and good roads are needed to transport it.
Signposts are covered in weeds and cannot be seen. I saw a man painting a sign one day and he had to push briars out of the way to do so. It is a pity that Frank Hall was not around to see it. It is a sick joke and not good enough in this day and age. Even at this late hour, I appeal to the Minister, in the interests of justice and fairness, to do something. If we had the will, we could create employment in local authorities. I do not believe in the system in operation in many local authorities whereby too much machinery is in operation and the man with a wife and family is forgotten.
“welcomes the commitment of the Government to roads as demonstrated by the publication of the new Road Plan which contains a realistic development programme, the provision of substantially increased State funding and the announcement of the first ever medium term financial commitment for improvement and maintenance covering the period 1985 to 1987”.
Mr. Kavanagh: When I want somebody to write a speech on roads for me I will not go to Deputy Molloy, I prefer to voice my own thoughts. I should be  allowed, as the Chair has ruled, to make my own case as I see fit. Deputy O'Rourke said that in the plan we produced for the next three years there is no reference to county roads. There is. If she does not have a copy we will let her have one.
Mr. Kavanagh: I am frankly surprised that Fianna Fáil put down this motion. Given their record on road development, it can only be described as an own goal. Even allowing for the local elections next month, I would have thought that Deputy Molloy and his colleagues would have been anxious to avoid a discussion of this subject given the clear and unambiguous commitment to roads demonstrated by this Government——
Mr. Kavanagh: ——who have for the first time in the history of the State given a medium term commitment of funds for road improvement and maintenance and which will spend over half a billion pounds — £509 million to be exact — on  road development over the three years 1985, 1986 and 1987.
Before I talk about this Government's ambitious yet realistic road development programme, I want to tell the House about the dismal record of the party opposite who have the temerity to criticise our efforts, despite their own failures in recent years.
Mr. Kavanagh: In May 1979 the Fianna Fáil Administration published the road development plan for the eighties. There was great publicity and it was described as the first major plan of its type since the foundation of the State. They claimed that it was unprecedented in time span and format and that it charted the course for bringing the road network up to the standard to meet then prevailing and projected trafic demands. However, it did contain the important qualification that its implementation depended on available financial resources. Despite this qualification the then Minister in his introduction to the plan wrote “The programme promulgated in this Road Development Plan is one which I believe to be reasonably capable of achievement” and later “The programme has been kept to a realisable and realistic level”. I do not doubt the sincerity of the Minister when he wrote those words, although one could be uncharitable and  suggest that publication of the plan was not unconnected with the local and European elections in the following month of that year.
Mr. Kavanagh: However, the facts show that the programme was neither realistic nor realisable given the subsequent record of that Fianna Fáil Administration. In 1980, the first year of the road development plan, Fianna Fáil projected that direct State investment in road improvements would be £94 million.
Mr. Kavanagh: Whatever happened in  the few short months from the publication of the plan in May 1985 to the presentation of the Estimates in early 1980 I do not know. The Fianna Fáil Government only provided £54 million of the promised £94 million, in other words, there was a shortfall in 43 per cent in real terms. That is like somebody promising a child £1 and then only giving him less than 60p. That is not forgotten very quickly. The failure to provide the promised funds undermined the confidence of local authorities, contractors and suppliers in its provisions.
Mr. Kavanagh: What was the point in planning projects to take up funds which Fianna Fáil knew in their hearts could not be provided? To be fair to Fianna Fáil they did a bit better in 1981 and provided 75 per cent of the promised funding for that year. We should, I suppose, be thankful for small blessings. To put the figures another way, in the first two years of this heralded realistic and realisable plan, they provided only £2 out of every £3 promised. One might even say that given Fianna Fáil's record on promises, that was not one of the worst cases of default.
Despite the severe financial problems we inherited, this Government provided substantially increased funds for road improvements in 1983 and 1984. Despite our improved record, I was conscious that it still was not good enough and for this reason I carried out a review of the road development plan. My conclusions were that the needs identified in the 1979 plan but not met through underinvestment were still real and urgent and that a considerable additional financial commitment was required. The review was considered by the Government and formed the basis for their decision, announced in Building on Reality, to provide the first ever firm multi-annual financial commitment for road improvements.
Mr. Kavanagh: A similar multi-annual provision for maintenance was announced in the new road plan. The significance of this medium term provision is that it enables local authorities and contractors to plan properly. Confidence undermined by Fianna Fáil has been restored by the provision in 1985 of the £125 million promised for improvements and the £27.5 million allocated for maintenance. Not only have we met our commitments, but our payments to local authorities in the first four months of 1985 were exactly on target.
Mrs. O'Rourke: On a point of order, I moved a motion dealing with county roads tonight. I was the first speaker and I spoke to that motion, but we are being given an answer in words which have no relevance to county roads.
Mr. Kavanagh: To put this in context, the 1987 roads improvement provision will be 31 per cent higher than the 1984 provision in real terms. In other words, excluding inflation, we will be providing one third more money than we did last year. The 1987, provision will be 160 per cent greater in real terms than the sum provided by Fianna Fáil in 1980.
Mr. Kavanagh: Fianna Fáil Deputies do not like what they are hearing but they will have to listen to it anyway. It is also a reflection of the honesty and realism of this Government that we have acknowledged in the new road plan that even at the end of 1987 total spending on improvements, while greater as a proportion of GNP than at any time in the last quarter century, will still not have caught up with projections in the 1979 Fianna Fáil plan. Expenditure for the period 1980 to 1987 will be 9 per cent short of the original projections, compared with 34 per cent at the end of 1981, two years  into the Fianna Fáil plan, and 21 per cent at the end of 1984 after two years of the present Government. The shortfall at the end of 1987 can be clearly attributed to earlier Fianna Fáil underspending——
Mr. Kavanagh: Let me say also that the allocations represent a commitment to employment since they will provide an additional 1,100 direct jobs over the period and an annual average of 400 spinoff jobs.
Mr. Kavanagh: Before I go on to refer specifically to county roads, I want to speak for a few moments about the new road plan policy Policy and Planning Framework for Roads. Apart from giving a firm commitment to provide £½ billion for road development, the plan sets out a clear policy framework for the expenditure of those funds and, in addition, contains a programme of major improvement projects to be undertaken in the period 1985 to 1987.
The main aims of our road development policy are five in number: Firstly, to provide an adequate inter-urban road network linking the major towns, ports and airports; next, to eliminate traffic bottlenecks by providing by-passes for towns on national routes; third, to reduce urban congestion by providing new bridges, ring roads and relief roads, fourth, the preservation through proper maintenance of existing and planned road investment, and, last but not least, the improvement of road safety.
The programme of major improvement work for the period 1985 to 1987 is  detailed in the new road plan and contains 54 projects. Important projects include the Mallow Street bridge in Limerick, the Opera House bridge and ring roads in Cork and the Waterford bridge. Bypasses will be provided at various locations including Dunleer, Collooney, Newbridge, Roscrea, Newtown-mountkennedy, Wexford, Midleton, Dungarvan, Slieverue and Askeaton.
Mr. Kavanagh: There will be major route improvements between Cork and Mallow, Patrickswell and Reens in County Limerick, Ballycarthy and Tralee and Drumsna and Jamestown in Leitrim. The plan also includes a forward programme for the period from 1988 until about the mid-nineties which will provide a planning base. This programme will be reviewed by the end of next year.
Deputy Molloy's motion calls for Government funding of a special programme for the maintenance and improvement of the county road system. The new road plan clearly sets out Government policy on the funding of road works, including county roads, and I can do no better than quote the relevant paragraph, numbered 3.8:
—100 per cent grants to local authorities for approved maintenance and improvement works on national and  major urban roads. This takes account of the Minister for the Environment's co-ordination and direction of the development of the national route network.
—grants to supplement the provision made from local authorities' own resources (including the rate support grants) for the discharge of their responsibilities in relation to the improvement, maintenance and management of other public roads. These grants will be:
a general “block” grant for the improvement, maintenance and management of non-national main roads, for improvement works on county roads, and for the implementation of traffic management measures; and
Mr. Kavanagh: In accordance with established practice, State grants will not be made available for county road maintenance. Expenditure under this heading will continue to be a matter for local authorities.
Mr. Kavanagh: Lest there by any doubt that it has been the policy of successive Governments not to provide funds for county road maintenance, let me quote from the Official Report on 11 February 1971, Volume 251, column 1243——
Mr. Kavanagh: This Government are therfore pursuing the policy adopted by their predecessors, including Fianna Fáil administrations, over a long number of years. However, our position on county roads is not a slavish pursuit of the policy of past Governments. County road improvements may in part be funded from the block grants. Taking account of concerns expressed by local authorities and Deputies on both sides of the House about the level of the block grant, I increased the allocation by 10 per cent this year, substantially ahead of the rate of inflation. I also reviewed the system of allocation, with a view to a more equitable distribution of available funds among local authorities. On 7 May, in a speech to the annual Spring Show conference for local authority engineers, I announced that I intended to pay 75 per cent grants towards the cost of approved improvements works on the more important county road bridges and asked local authorities initially to submit proposals outlining their priorities——
Mr. Kavanagh: I want to explain to the House and the public the rational basis for the policy adopted by the Government in relation to county roads. As was illustrated in the new road plan, Ireland  has a very considerable length of roads per head of population. We have 26 kilometres of road per 1,000 population, compared with 6 kilometres in the United Kingdom, 15 in France, eight in West Germany and 14 in Denmark. The nearest European country is Norway, with 20 kilometres per 1,000 population. Our high road mileage arises because of the dispersed and rural nature of our population. Heretofore we lived on the land rather than in towns or villages. However, the urban-rural proportion of our population is changing. For example, the 1936 census indicated that 37 per cent of our population was in urban areas. In 1951 it was still only 41 per cent. By 1966 it had reached 49 per cent and in 1981 it was 56 per cent. That trend is likely to continue. This change means that county roads will carry less and less traffic while the inter-urban roads will carry an ever-increasing proportion. At present, national roads, which account for 5.6 per cent of all roads, carry 35 per cent of all traffic. County roads account for four-fifths of total road mileage, yet only carry just over a quarter of all traffic. We also have a very high proportion of black-topped, or tarmacadamed, roads by international standards. About 97 per cent of our roads are paved. This compares with 97 per cent in Britain which has one-quarter our mileage of road per head of population, 85 per cent for local roads in France——
Mr. Kavanagh: ——62 per cent for Norway which has a mileage per capita approaching our own, 67 per cent for Sweden, one of the world's richest economies, and 86 per cent for The Netherlands. In view of the very substantial under-investment in our major roads in the sixties and seventies, one could ask whether the resources devoted to the provision of dust-free surfaces on county roads in that period were spent to the best possible effect.
There is also the myth that spending on the maintenance of county roads is  low. This is true in absolute terms but not when one makes comparisons on the basis of road usage. In 1983 maintenance expenditure per mile of county road was estimated at £880 compared with £6,070 for national primaries and £1,059 for all roads. However, when one looks at expenditure per 1,000 vehicles miles of travel, that is the measure of road usage, one finds the exact opposite. Spending on county roads is £12.16, almost four times that on national primaries, £3.36, or one and a half times the average for all roads, £7.36 per 1,000 vehicle miles of travel.
For all these reasons I feel bound to follow the policy pursued by successive Governments, including Fianna Fáil, which is that funds for county roads maintenance must be provided from local authorities' own resources.
Mr. Kavanagh: The Deputies opposite have to take a lot of the blame for that, if that is the case. Of course, I will be the first to acknowledge that this policy is not without its problems. The new road plan said as much when it frankly pointed out that local authority expenditure from own resources, including rate support grants, on road improvement and maintenance decreased in real terms by 11.5 per cent between 1975 and 1983. This Government have already acted to assist local authorities financially. In 1983 we ended the limitation on rate increases and provided an additional £30 million over and above the original provision for the rate support grants. The national plan announced the introduction of a farm tax that will accrue to local authorities from 1986. The Government are also committed to the pursuit of a more balanced system of local financing and in this I will be carefully considering the reports of the National Economic and Social Council and the Commission on Taxation.
Mr. Kavanagh: The reality is that there is only a limited amount of money for roads. Increased funds for county roads can be found only by increasing taxes, which I doubt Deputy Molloy or his colleagues are advocating, or by diverting funds from the major national and urban road projects.
Mr. Kavanagh: In the interests of political expediency he seems now to favour the county roads against the national network, with all the adverse consequences for the country's economic and industrial development. Despite their supposed commitment to the west, successive Fianna Fáil Ministers let proposals for the by-pass at Chapelizod lie dormant for years despite its location on the vital artery to the west. The compulsory purchase order for that scheme was made in 1975 and one might wonder what happened to it between 1977 and 1981 when Fianna Fáil were in office. It took this Government to bring that project to construction. A number of other projects in the pipeline will benefit the west, including a by-pass at Lucan, the provision of a new route from Lucan to Kilcock bypassing Leixlip, Maynooth and Kilcock and the construction of a new gateway to the west and a new road and bridge over the Shannon at Athlone.
Mr. Kavanagh: In Galway construction has started on the Corrib bridge and the Oranmore by-pass. Is Deputy Molloy suggesting that we scrap or defer these or any of the other 77 major projects being financed this year so as to provide additional funds for county roads? I have to deal with realities and I cannot travel on both sides of the road at once, as Deputy Molloy and his colleagues are trying to do tonight. I have to place national interests above those of local political gain. I will not indulge in false promises as Deputy Molloy did when departing from office in 1973 — promising a bridge over the Corrib at Knockferry in west Galway to join two outlying county roads at an estimated cost of £10 million in current prices.
Mr. Kavanagh: Funds were not provided for it. I ask the House to reject the Fianna Fáil motion and to accept my amendment. Despite inheriting a financial mess from Fianna Fáil, despite the false dawn promised in their 1979 road programme and despite the removal by them of financial discretion from local authorities, this Government have published and are delivering a new and realistic policy and programme for road development. In voting for the amendment Members will be expressing their support for that policy and programme, for realism and for promises kept.
Mr. Calleary: I hope the delegates who attended the Labour Party conference in Cork have listened to the Minister and his praise of the programme Building on Reality in view of the way many of his supporters spoke about that so-called plan. The number of people anxious to speak on this important motion is an indication of the frustration and anger felt throughout the country at the appalling state of main roads, and particularly county roads, and the apparent paralysis of the Government in failing to come to grips with the problem or even to appreciate that it exists.
In County Mayo approximately only 88 per cent of our roads are tarred even though our county is one of the largest in the country. One can readily understand that people have doubts regarding the relevance of the whole political system and they query if it is of any use to them in their daily lives. They try to carry on their normal business on roads that are somewhat akin to the wandering minstrel  in Gilbert and Sullivan's “Mikado”, “a thing of shreds and patches”— in this case more patches and shreds than actual tar.
I am surprised that the Minister has put down the amendment. While he represents an urban area there are many county roads also in his constituency. The amendment totally avoids dealing with the motion tabled by Deputy Molloy on behalf of Fianna Fáil and which represents the views of quite a number of people on the opposite side who say privately that our county roads are disintegrating. This amendment is an example of the ostrich-like attitude of the Government, their lack of reality and utter insensitivity to the needs of ordinary people. The Minister's remarks only reinforce my view that this Government are Dublin-orientated and are nothing more than as has been described in a number of papers a Donnybrook set. Deputy O'Rourke said quite categorically that there had never been special central Government funding for the maintenance of county roads. The Minister going back into history is another example of the attitude of this Government.
Mr. Calleary: Throughout the country the cry of despair is ringing out: “Mike Murphy, where are you in our hour of need? Why have you deserted us at a time when we are overrun by potholes?”. Potholes have now come into their own, thanks to this Government. They have triumphed over the power of the airways and have even beaten that great explorer of the pothole world. The new specimen is a far cry from his cousin of old — tougher, wider, deeper and sharper, worthy of being included in Mr. Murphy's catalogue. Indeed, there should be room found for him in the new record just completed. From north to south, east to west, this new breed of pothole has flourished amid the stagnation and neglect of this Coalition Government. The silence of a long time champion of  the pothole, Deputy L'Estrange, must disappoint the present collection, prime examples of all that makes a pothole great. Many of us remember the same Deputy L'Estrange shaking the Fianna Fáil 1977 manifesto asking what measures were contained therein for the then potholes. I could ask the same question with regard to the document Building on Reality in which there is not a mention of potholes or of county road maintenance. Garage owners throughout the country are offering a silent prayer of thanks to this Government who, unknown to themselves, are helping the motor industry at present exceptionally hard pressed.
There is a strong rumour that the Irish county road is about to be used as a testing ground by car manufacturers worldwide because of their toughness and present state. If that is so perhaps the Government might request the IDA to negotiate first of all so that if somebody does come in they will be allowed and not as happened very recently.
The Taoiseach has returned from his overseas travels. I can tell him that his journey was much smoother than those of people in rural areas who daily must encounter the hard realities of this Government's policies, not the myth of the fairytale Building on Reality about which the Minister spoke. The reality of this Government's policy is that many people are being condemned to negotiate roads which have now reverted to their pre-tarred state. That is because of the neglect and failure of this Government to allocate sufficient finances to local authorities for their provision and maintenance at a reasonable level.
The Minister spoke about the block grant. I might remind him that in 1983 the block grant for Mayo County Council amounted to £916 out of which allocation that local authority had to tar and maintain certain roads. There were also allocated £200,000 for regional roads. In 1984 the block grant was £916 also, despite inflation, and the allocation for regional roads was reduced to £50,000 with an extra amount being provided for bridges of £70,000. During that time Mayo County Council had to fund out of rates  a considerable amount of the finance necessary for their seven year plan. Originally it was to be a five year plan, it is now a seven year one, but the reality is that it will be a ten year plan, the result being that many people now unable to travel on roads will never see tar on the roads in front of their residences. Indeed, they may never see even a decent gravel road. They know that this Government are not at all sensitive to the needs of people all along the western seaboard where the bulk of this problem obtains. They know that until after the next general election there is no hope. However, thereafter they do know that a Fianna Fáil Government will again hold out some hope, satisfaction, a chance to travel on reasonable roads free of the plague of potholes at present afflicting the whole of our county roads system.
The harsh reality is that the shortfall in recent years has led to a build-up of neglect of county roads, resulting in the present calamitous state of many of them. One talks to members of all parties but one discovers that the story is the same all over, particularly from those who represent the greater rural areas. At recent meetings all over my constituency the main complaint was about the totally disastrous state of our county roads at present. Things are now so bad in parts of County Mayo that people have had serious accidents. For example, one lady broke both legs in potholes on county roads. The Minister holds out no hope to people like that. People are becoming increasingly militant about this problem. The Minister should now implement an emergency programme to alleviate the problem. It is not confined to rural areas only. From talking to some of my Dublin colleagues I believe the same conditions obtain also close to this city and to the other larger towns. Some moneys from other road programmes surely could be diverted in order to help. I advance that as a serious alternative.
I ask the House to approve our motion, to reject the Government amendment, which does not meet the case at all but  rather sidesteps it, portraying the ostrich-like view of the Government in relation to the condition of our county roads.
Mr. Hilliard: I am not in any way satisfied with the Government amendment. We do not know how long our local authorities must await the necessary finance to maintain and repair our county roads. This amendment is another whitewash job before the local elections, to give the people the impression that the Government are serious about doing something to assist local authorities in bringing county roads to a reasonable standard so that local people in rural areas can travel in comfort to conduct their business in the nearby towns and villages.
When the Minister visited County Meath not long ago he met a deputation from Meath County Council. I regret that the outcome was zero. He had every sympathy with the case put forward by Meath County Council. Sympathy was all we got.
Mr. Hilliard: The Minister is aware that the roads in County Meath are in a scandalous condition. In many cases the road foundations are crumbling away and a lot more taxpayer's money will be needed unless the Government decide quickly to put a plan into action. Many of the Meath county roads are among the worst in the country and we have made a special case to the Minister.
Many years ago the large estates in Meath were divided and roads were provided through the farms for the transport then available. These roads have not suitable foundations to cope with milk lorries, oil lorries and heavy farm machinery. The Minister should consider this matter seriously. The roads are simply disappearing and this is affecting  trade and commerce. Milk must be brought quickly to creameries and many other products must also be moved rapidly along the roads.
Mr. Hilliard: A lot of extra traffic travels along our county roads to and from Dublin and the port of Drogheda. In Meath 78 per cent of our roads are county roads and 22 per cent are national, national secondary and regional roads. I welcome the 38 per cent increase in the road block grant which we in Meath received but that 38 per cent increase went entirely into the 22 per cent area and nothing went into the 78 per cent area.
Mr. Hilliard: Meath County Council have repeatedly called on the Minister for extra finance for our county roads but we are still in the same position. The county managers have been given authority by the Minister to collect tax from the people but this money should be provided in the budget at national level. Refuse charges are being imposed but they are really road charges. In County Meath less than 10 per cent of the refuse charges were collected so there is no money to repair the roads. The Minister knows that the Meath county manager has not the money to repair the roads. I appeal to him to ask the Government to change their policy in this area.
The county engineers and their staff are to be complimented on the way they are handling the limited resources available to them. We have a ten-year road plan in County Meath but on the basis of the finance currently being made available it will take 30 years to implement that plan. The Minister should take note of these facts. I get the impression that many of the documents submitted by deputations are filed away and never heard of again. The Minister says there  is a national plan. Are we going to stick by the national plan? The large majority of our peoplle use the county roads and they are entitled to more than just sympathy from the Government. Our engineers know what is needed and they present their plans to the Government, yet there is no change in Government policy. There is no money.
People who want to work are joining the queues of the unemployed. There is work available if the Minister would only change the policy of road financing. In County Meath the amount provided in 1985 for the maintenance of county roads is £783,108, a 2.75 per cent increase on the figure for 1984. That is a smaller amount in real terms. There is also provision for £1.622 million in 1985, the same amount as in 1984 but it will do less work. The county manager will be letting road workers go in Meath because the money is not there. It is ridiculous that people are drawing money on the dole who want to work.
Mr. Hilliard: That means that the roads which are already in bad condition will get worse. I do not know whether the Minister is taking all these factors into account. We asked him to upgrade some of our roads so that we might have a little extra finance but I assume the answer will be “no”. We asked for the upgrading of the R156, the road from Dunboyne to Summerhill and Ballivor. We asked for the upgrading of the R161 and the R159, the Navan-Trim-Enfield road. We asked for the upgrading of the R157, the Dunboyne-Maynooth road. I assume that the answer will be “no”.
Mr. Hilliard: I appeal to the Minister to set up a special fund immediately by  transferring funds to the county roads from the national, national secondary and regional road fund. He should take a little from the regional roads and give it to the county road areas. Even if this were done in 1986 there would be a big improvement. It is obvious that the Coalition Government have put down this amendment to delay matters and to give the impression to the public at large that they will do something soon to improve the situation. I am sure the people will give their answer to the Minister and his Government on 20 June.
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