Tuesday, 30 September 1997
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. Rabbitte: I have a high regard for the Minister and for that reason I am all the more concerned by the inauspicious start she has made in her present Ministry. For 20 years Tallaght, Clondalkin and other parts of west Dublin have been  waiting for this service. It is ten years since the former Minister for Transport, Deputy Séamus Brennan, announced the go-ahead for the Luas system. Now, just when it looked as if the prize was within our grasp, it is being snatched away as a result of dithering by the Minister for Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke.
It is extraordinary that half the citizens of Dublin who are not served by the DART and who had for the first time the prospect of a decent public transport system now find themselves in a situation where, because the Minister felt compelled to honour a foolish promise made at the time of the general election, the entire project is at risk.
The European Commission warned publicly that funding would be at risk if we did not get on with it. The Minister's predecessor, Deputy Dukes, had a consultants' review of the merits of the underground system conducted during his term of office. That concluded that the overground dimension was the favoured project. Despite that, the Minister, Deputy O'Rourke, blithely ordered another review against a background of warnings from the European Commission that have put the entire funding at risk. It is especially alarming that CIE has reportedly already begun to examine alternative ways of spending the money.
Mr. Rabbitte: The previous Government set up a public inquiry under Judge Seán O'Leary to examine the Luas question and this could have dealt with the understandable concerns of traders and residents in the city. However, this inquiry has been postponed until next April to facilitate the Minister's unnecessary consultancy study.
It is unconscionable that the residents of Dublin not served by the DART should be condemned for years to an inferior and inadequate transport system because the Minister has buckled to lobby groups in the interests of political expediency. It is a most inauspicious start to her tenure as Minister and one for which she will not easily be forgiven by generations of Dubliners to come. A decent public transport system is now——
Mr. Rabbitte: My agenda is transport for my constituents. The belt of Dublin which has the least cars per capita has been waiting for 20 years for a decision which seemed to be within its grasp. However, the Minister has postponed making a decision and EU money is now at risk.
Ms O. Mitchell: The Minister must be aware of the shock, dismay and consternation at yesterday's  announcement which was an inevitable footnote to the announcement made in July to consider an underground option. There must also have been shock and dismay in the Department, the DTO, CIE and the local authorities, given the work they did in preparation for a public inquiry. They based their new development plans on the expectation that a light rail system would be in place in the next few years. However, that is nothing to the shock, dismay and anger felt by the people and I do not know if the Minister appreciates that. Deputy Rabbitte said the Minister will not be easily forgiven. The people will not forgive and forget if this project does not go ahead as soon as possible because Dublin cannot wait.
I cannot understand what the Minister hopes to achieve. It would be better if this inquiry recommended no change so that we could receive money from this tranche of EU funds. If it recommends change which requires new design work, etc., we will not meet the deadlines. The Minister said we must have the best option. That is why millions of pounds of taxpayers' money was spent employing Steer Davies Gleave to carry out the Dublin Transportation Initiative. That is why the last Fianna Fáil Government accepted the recommendations of that investigation and negotiated the money for the light rail system for Dublin. Why change it now?
Why is the Minister considering an underground option when the philosophy of the DTI is to obtain a modal switch between private car transport and public transport? Why put people underground and leave more room for cars? If one major part of this strategy, such as the light rail system, is run underground, it will no longer be a seamless garment. The money already invested on the Government's behalf by the Dublin Transportation Office will be undermined; it will no longer form part of a strategy but will represent a series of ad hoc measures. That will be the real risk we face if the light rail system is shelved.
Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke): I accept Deputy Rabbitte's apology. I realise he was involved in business with the Government. I thank him and Deputy Mitchell for their contributions. I do not know whether this was Deputy Mitchell's maiden speech but I welcome her contribution.
At the outset I wish to scotch two untruths which Deputy Rabbitte, I am sure unwittingly, uttered during his contribution. Deputy Dukes did not commission an independent study. There is no independent study available in my Department. At a meeting yesterday with the Secretary and Assistant Secretary of my Department, they agreed that there was no independent study, in written form, available to me which was left in the Department by Deputy Dukes. It is correct that Deputy Dukes commissioned and paid a person to carry out a synopsis and study and I am sure that the individual involved did much valuable  work. However, that study is not available to me in any form. I wish to correct Deputy Rabbitte's statement because it is untrue. Studies were carried out at the behest of Luas, much valuable information was garnered but no independent study was carried out.
Neither Deputy Dukes nor I received a study in written form from Mr. Doyle. I understand that he gave the former Minister an oral report. That is very interesting but it is not available to me. The synopsis was commissioned and paid for and I am sure that much valuable work was done. However, I am informed that the report was given in oral, not written, form.
I wish now to deal with the Deputy's impression that I woke up one morning and decided to instigate this study. A commitment to such a study is contained and clearly laid out in the Government's manifesto which was made available to everyone.
Mrs. O'Rourke: The Deputy should take that matter up with the relevant Minister. I must make it clear that no independent study in written form was left in my Department or given to the previous Minister and that I am carrying out a Government remit in instigating this study. If the Government had not given me that remit I believe we would be listening to a different story this evening. I fulfilled the brief given to me.
On 8 July the Government decided to honour the commitment given in its “Action Programme for the Millennium” to investigate the option of putting the city centre section of the light rail network underground. The Government did so in order to provide convincing answers to the persistent and lingering doubts and concerns expressed by certain interested parties about the feasibility of introducing on-street light rail in the city centre.
Independent commentators, business interests and others expressed serious concerns regarding possible negative consequences for transport and traffic arrangements and economic and business activity in the city centre in the short and long-term. I wish to scotch any suggestion that the light rail project has been abandoned. In reply to Deputy Mitchell's concerns, my office was flooded with telephone calls today from people thanking me for using common sense. There are  two sides to every story and the Deputy must recognise that fact.
This Government is fully committed to implementing the light rail system for Dublin and its agreed programme puts that beyond doubt. It was decided to instigate the study at the first Cabinet meeting following the one which took place at Áras an Uachtaráin. Invitations to tender for the underground study were invited through advertisements placed in national newspapers and the EU Official Journal. The final date for receipt of tenders was 22 September last. Tenders have been received and are being urgently evaluated. I expect to be in a position to announce details of the successful consultants in the near future.
The issues which will be addressed by the underground study are so fundamental that it would be irresponsible of me to proceed to the construction phase without a fully independent examination of the matter.
I challenge the belief that I should not be in full possession of the facts of underground versus overground rail. I am lucky I am not passionate about either. I am passionate about having a proper light rail system for Dublin. I wonder about and challenge those who do not want the facts to come out in the open. Is there an agenda I do not know about? Are there people who are so entrenched in their views that they will not allow any independent study——
Mrs. O'Rourke: It strikes me as astounding and bizarre that constant untruths are circulating, for example, that there was an independent study done on underground rail. There was not and it is not available to me. I did not wake up one morning and decide to do this; it was in the Government manifesto to the nation. It is also untrue to say this will not go ahead — it will. That is why I am glad both Deputies raised this matter.  I challenge anyone who says I must do something because that is what the Luas commissioned studies said. Despite what Deputy Rabbitte may say in any of the jousts we will have, and have had, with much enjoyment, and what Deputy Olivia Mitchell may say as she goes through her career, I have never acted without having knowledge. I do not act in a witless or stupid way. Is Deputy Rabbitte part of the lobby that says the money is there and we should run with it? That is utterly unbelievable.
Mrs. O'Rourke: I would like Deputy Rabbitte to think that the determination I have shown in other matters would be used to good advantage. I am amazed that anyone would say the money is there and I should go ahead and do it a certain way because everyone else thinks that is the right way. I want to do it the right way and to spend the money wisely. In 40, 50 or 60 years time when ten more Ministers for Transport have come and gone, I do not want to be the one who introduced a system without the proper knowledge. I will do it with knowledge, based on certainty. I will not do it based on half-truths and studies which do not exist even though it is constantly being said they do. I want truth and knowledge. Whatever is the result of that, I will go at it hell for leather and it will be implemented.
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