National Transport Authority Bill 2003: Second Stage.

Tuesday, 25 March 2003

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 563 No. 4

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Mr. Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan  Zoom on Eamon Ryan  I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.” I wish to share my [816] time with Deputies Boyle, Crowe, Connolly and Finian McGrath.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  That is agreed.

Mr. Eamon Ryan: Information on Eamon Ryan  Zoom on Eamon Ryan  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his assistance in the publication of this Bill which we are keen to see before the House. Its purpose is to provide for the better integration of transport planning as between public and road transport and also to provide for better coherence between our planning and transport policies. That is the central objective and aim of the Bill.

I will review some key aspects of our expenditure on roads and public transport plans and deal with some of the planning aspects dealt with in the Bill. My colleague, Deputy Cuffe, will speak on the planning issue tomorrow evening. Another colleague, Deputy Boyle, will address some of the financial aspects of our infrastructural expenditure in the transport area.

As the Bill clearly outlines, the new authority would replace the existing National Roads Authority and the National Rail Procurement Agency. The National Roads Authority needs urgent review. Many Deputies are concerned about the lack of accountability within it. I would be keen to hear from Deputies who have proposed amendments on how it could be improved. The main aspects of the Bill relate to strategic planning of transport and the lack of a strategic policy within the NRA, particularly the lack of strategic connections in the overall transport area. This lack of strategic planning became very clear to me at a recent meeting of the Joint Committee on Transport when the current chairman of the NRA, Mr. Michael Tobin said:

Our function in law has a narrow focus. We are expected to oversee the improvement and maintenance of national roads. That is our sole function.

That is not good enough. We cannot spend €3 billion per year on national roads without having a more strategic analysis. The only strategic analysis done was undertaken in 1998 when the NRA published the most extensive review of our roads needs in the national roads needs study which set out plans for the following 20 years.

The report came out with a firm recommendation that we should improve the intertown sections of the existing primary road network and provide bypasses to remove the worst urban gridlock black spots. The Government acted against this advice on the basis of no known analysis or public discussion. I was involved from an early stage in public consultations. The Government came up with a completely different plan to provide 800 kilometres of new motorways of dual carriageway grade in addition to the existing primary road network. When Mr. Tobin was asked about this he said:

[817]We made our input but the Government obviously listened to other bodies that had an interest in the matter. I suspect these bodies included IDA Ireland and perhaps the Chambers of Commerce of Ireland.

It is deeply disturbing that the NRA, which is responsible for the largest capital investment project in the State, was not listened to when it came to the development of the road system. A roads project originally costed at €7 billion is now estimated at approximately €20 billion. This might have been acceptable three or four years ago at the height of the boom when money was no object but we are in a very different financial situation now. We must carry out a fundamental review of the road and transport policies the Government is pursuing. It seems incredible that at a time of great fiscal restraint we are proposing that, with an existing road network that can carry 20,000 passenger cars per day in many instances, we should build an additional road beside that network to carry an additional 50,000 to 55,000 vehicles per day. The only authority with expertise in the area has predicted that in 20 years' time we will not need such capacity. Our roads programme capital budget is two and a half times the capital budget for health and will provide road capacity two and a half times the capacity we actually need in many locations, even if one projects a 220% increase in vehicular traffic over 20 years, which the NRA did for its national roads needs survey. That does not make sense. A review is required, as is a proper structure for carrying out such a review. My argument and that of the Bill is that the NRA will be responsible for this.

The Government commissioned Fitzpatricks Associates to carry out an economic analysis of the national roads programme. Its work was very good but was hampered by the fact that its terms of reference precluded it from examining issues outside its terms of reference – to address the topics “principally from the programme management and delivery” perspective. Although it looked at some of the socio-economic issues associated with roads, it did not make a strategic analysis as to whether we needed the roads programme the Government came up with.

Other economists and transport experts are not similarly constrained. I find it hard to meet a transport expert who does not agree with the Green Party that the roads programme is out of scale and unnecessary. Writing in the current issue of Irish Banking Review on the public investment programme and the NDP roads programme, Professor John Fitzgerald of the ESRI says: “It does not appear that these additions have been properly justified and the additional expenditure that they will require may not be warranted”.

Despite its lack of strategic analysis the Fitzpatricks report recognises a fundamental problem [818]– that in current budgetary circumstances we cannot fund the current roads programme before the NRA. Even though we are giving €1.3 billion to it and have promised the same amount for the next three years, there is still a funding shortfall the Minister will have to address. The Fitzpatricks report suggests we should look at new funding – though I find it hard to believe the Government can argue for yet more money for roads in the current economic climate – or rescheduling projects, the national roads needs study and our priorities. That is what should happen. The NRA is not the appropriate body to do so, however. The new Transport Development Authority, in conjunction with the Minister and his Department, would do this job best.

Nobody would argue that we need the capacity which will be provided. In certain locations near major urban junctions we might need a certain increase in capacity but not on the scale planned by the Government. The major argument in favour of this proposal is the safety argument but the evidence for such dual carriageways providing increased safety is very mixed, depending on which country's experience one examines. The way the NRA is developing the network, without proper service stations or proper barriers in the centre of motorways, makes it difficult to credit the arguments being made for increased safety. The real crime is the fact that the NRA spends only 1.2% of the roads programme budget on safety measures. That is a real safety problem. If the amount was significantly increased, we might save lives as the Minister wishes without having to build this new superfluous motorway system.

Safety was an issue which drove public transport expenditure. The Minister's predecessor, then Deputy O'Rourke, spent most of the life of the last Government heralding a new era for rail but in reality very little new public transport capacity was provided. In the main the western, south-western and northern rail lines were made safe, which was welcome, but it was not an increase in public transport capacity. I welcome the arrival of the Railway Procurement Agency, an excellent organisation with some very talented individuals. The skills in the organisation could easily be applied to the NRA. A joint authority would make a lot of economic and administrative sense.

I have a problem with the way the Minister has handled the first RPA report which deals with a metro for Dublin. It has been on his desk for six months. Monthly leaks indicate the metro has gone from a €2 billion project likely to go ahead to one costing from €3 billion to €6 billion which is stymied by the Minister for Finance. The Department of Finance is not the appropriate body to decide on our transport spending. We need independent transport analysis, not only of the metro but also of the strategic rail study which [819] is also sitting on the Minister's desk for a long time.

The strategic rail study mirrors the NRA's proposal, according to the leaks, by appearing to suggest we need to concentrate on interurban journeys. The same priority is being suggested for the roads programme but we have to analyse these to determine which will give us the best return which would probably come from investment in short distance urban commuting solutions, for which we would need a proper, independent authority to analyse the merits of one case against the other. That is the reason we have proposed this Bill. I trust other parties and the Government will see the merit in our case.

Mr. Boyle: Information on Dan Boyle  Zoom on Dan Boyle  In an era of retrenchment in Government finances strong analysis must be carried out to learn the reason profligate spending has been allowed in the provision of transport infrastructure. This is true of individual projects. There has also been a lack of overall control in delivering the national infrastructure which is undoubtedly necessary. It is not being prioritised properly.

Regarding the funds set aside by the Government, as Deputy Ryan said, the national road needs survey by the NRA specified an easily provided, low cost road network. The Government appeared to decide subsequently that this needed to be augmented when developing its national development plan, possibly through advice from State agencies which have nothing to do with proper transport planning. Even at that stage the NDP projections for spending on the road network amounted to €5.6 billion. The most recent estimate of the cost of providing the same roads programme is €14.8 billion. Questions have to be asked as to how this degree of inflation has been allowed to occur over a short period and the reason it has not delivered either faster completion of projects or better infrastructure, particularly roads.

Part of the reason is that the National Roads Authority has been extremely deficient in performing the task for which it was established, namely, to provide a cost effective and geographically widespread roads infrastructure. On any criteria it has failed. It has overspent its available account to a colossal degree –€250 million in the past two years alone – yet most debate on overspending focuses on the Departments of Health and Children and Education and Science, areas for which the general public perceives a great need. It appears accountability and Government scrutiny, particularly by the Department of Finance, are much more rigorously applied to these Departments than to the provision of transport infrastructure.

Even when one considers in isolation projects for which the National Roads Authority is [820] responsible, one finds they have gone significantly over budget. The projected cost of the Dublin Port tunnel, the largest infrastructural project in the country, has increased to €625 million, some €450 million more than the original estimate. The Nenagh to Limerick road is set to overrun the originally projected cost by €115 million, while the overruns for the stretch of the N4 from Kilcock to Kinnegad, the Glen of the Downs and the Kildare bypass are €85 million, €50 million and €35 million, respectively. How can these figures be justified in an era in which the Government is telling the public that belt tightening is necessary and public expenditure on important public services will be less than in recent years?

Whatever the real cost of the proposed metro link to Dublin Airport, the most recent projections by the Rail Procurement Agency appear to indicate it would cost six times more than a rail line of similar length already completed in Madrid. How could this be possible? Part of the reason is that cost overruns become inevitable if competing organisations, rather than a single co-ordinated integrated agency, are involved in providing transport infrastructure because the remit of each is to provide projects within the system for which it is responsible. The National Roads Authority, for example, would not produce an analysis in favour of getting people from A to B by means other than road. It would choose the road option in all circumstances and, as we know, will choose the motorway option regardless of whether it is justified in terms of traffic volumes.

With regard to the Government's funding plans for meeting the infrastructural shortfall, the Minister announced with great fanfare the public private partnership for a section of the Dublin to Galway road. While this may provide a completed infrastructure in what he believes is the shortest feasible period, the ultimate cost to the taxpayer will be greater. Public private partnership or the private finance initiative as it is known in Britain is not an effective mechanism.

Road tolling should not be imposed to allow the Government or contractor to recoup its investment. Specific strategic reasons are required to justify traffic being directed either in, out or around towns. The Government's policy on PPPs is not guided by such reasons, it is merely an exercise for generating the funding required in the quickest possible time.

Mr. Crowe: Information on Sean Crowe  Zoom on Sean Crowe  I welcome the legislation proposed by the Green Party. It gives the House an opportunity to discuss the important issue of transport. Sinn Féin has long been on record as supporting the creation of a national transport authority as a positive step towards the development of an integrated all-Ireland strategy on public transport and infrastructural development. Ireland requires an integrated transport plan that puts the overall [821] needs of the economy and all sections of society before sectional interests and profiteering. We need co-operation between the different modes of transport, trains, buses and roads. This requires the centralisation of responsibility for transport in one authority. The possibility of establishing a transport police force as part of the overall authority should be considered.

The Government's move to break up CIE represents the wrong kind of transport policy. Instead of a public transport system which works in a co-ordinated fashion, the Minister proposes that its various elements compete against each other. At one of his first meetings with CIE following his appointment he told the company he believed the subvention it received from the State should be reduced, rather than increased to a level which would allow it to realistically tackle the problems it faces.

We need to address decades of underfunding in our transport system. The most recent comparative study of investment in urban public transport in European cities indicated Dublin had the third lowest subvention rate for urban bus services. While I accept more money has been invested in Dublin Bus since the report was published on which I congratulate the Government, we are still playing catch-up in many other areas following many years during which our public transport service was expected to survive on paltry assistance.

It is still the case that people returning from visits abroad, especially to such countries as France and Germany, view the prospect of using Dublin Bus again with trepidation. It is the staff of the organisation which ensures this overstretched public transport network operates so efficiently. Ironically, these men and women often bear the brunt of the anger of disgruntled passengers.

Question marks remain over the Government's commitment to maintaining public transport and State ownership of companies such as Aer Lingus. Following his appointment, the Minister said the State should not be involved in commercial activities in which it did not want to be involved. I hope he does not regard public transport as a commercial activity as opposed to a service.

The legislation before us would play a major part in ensuring the response to the needs of citizens by our public transport system would be more reliable and efficient. The planned development and proper maintenance of our road network are essential parts of an integrated transport strategy. However, a balance must be struck between the development of new, improved roads and the development of a more extensive public transport network. It is Sinn Féin's firm belief that an efficient, effective, reliable, affordable and safe public transport system is the solution to urban traffic congestion.

[822]In areas outside Dublin and other urban centres across the island, we need to take seriously the need for a much improved rural public transport network. Public transport is vital, especially for groups such as the young, the elderly and the less well-off. For young people the cost of buying and running a car, particularly given the rising cost of motor insurance, is a pipedream. These sections of society can find themselves cut off from employment, education and social opportunities as a result of the poor public transport system. My constituency, in which houses were built without a transport system, has for years been a prime example of this problem. I regularly cite the example of Intel and the fact that young people from Tallaght and elsewhere in Dublin south-west find it impossible to get to Leixlip to take up jobs in the company.

The reliance in rural areas on private motor cars is a result of the lack of investment in rural transport. In many parts of the country it is impossible to get around. A glance at a map of the rail network provides a perfect example of the effect of partition on transport.

It is essential for social and economic development and those reliant on cars to get around that the national roads infrastructure is upgraded and planned projects are commenced and completed on time. While I welcome the investment the Government has made in the construction of new roads across the State and the assistance we have received from the European Union, I cannot but be concerned about the use of public private partnerships and the tolling aspect of yesterday's announcement on the construction of a new stretch of motorway. I oppose the use of toll roads for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the imposition of a charge on a new road often means drivers who face higher tolls, especially drivers of heavy goods vehicles, will use older, narrow roads rather than pay a toll. That means that despite the massive investment in roads, the drivers of many heavy goods vehicles will continue to travel on roads that are unsuitable. The safety-congestion problems the toll roads are designed to put an end to will remain. It is madness that we build roads and then do everything to encourage drivers not to use them.

The profits made from the tolls on the Westlink and Eastlink routes amount to millions of euro every year and Eurolink will have 30 years to exploit the Irish motorist. Public private partnerships represent a serious failure by successive Governments to use resources provided by recent economic growth for social programmes and infrastructures that serve the population. Instead, big business has been the primary beneficiary of the economic boom of the past decade. Toll contracts are a licence to print money and it is clear from the profits these companies are making that that is what they are doing.

[823]Before Christmas, the Taoiseach told the House that it was no secret that the Department of Finance had mixed feelings about public private partnerships, and it has given its views to a committee of the House. The Department believes that an excessive amount of money must be paid to financial institutions as part of the system. The only difference between the public private partnership in this case and the use of it in the construction of schools, for example, is that it is the people who will pay more in the long run, in this case motorists.

Sinn Féin has long suggested other options. For example, public bonds are often used in cities in the United States to fund major projects. In Wales, for example, Glas Cymru, a non-profit public company, issued £2 billion worth of bonds to buy the utility that supplies water and sewerage services to Wales. Public bonds have lower rates of interest which ensures that capital investment projects such as schools remain under public ownership and management.

Public private partnerships are unnecessary and represent the worst kind of short-term thinking. It would be more economically sensible to raise money for the development of our infrastructure through borrowing or increased taxation on the wealthy or big business instead of hitting the ordinary motorist.

I welcome the emphasis in the proposed legislation on involvement with local authorities and communities. It is important that the people who will be most directly affected by planned construction of roads are as involved as possible in the consultation process. Non-national roads are the responsibility of local authorities and the usage of them is often dependent on the construction of motorways nearby.

An integral approach to this area is clearly needed. Non-national roads are the lifelines of rural communities and small towns. They cannot be merely seen as on-off ramps for motorways. They must continue to receive improved resources for upgrading and maintenance. More open consultation might have averted mistakes such as the farce that developed at Carrickmines where a valuable historic site was damaged by the routing of the M50 through a national monument.

While we support the development of the authority as outlined in the legislation before the House, and its expansion on an all-Ireland basis, it is a long-standing belief of mine that appointments made to these types of bodies must be more open and transparent and the public better informed about them. The vacancies on the authority should be advertised in the national media, the criteria for the vacancies published and interviews held to ascertain the most suitable candidates for these positions.

In the past we have seen State boards and bodies stacked by Ministers with political appointees [824] and positions handed out to financial backers and long-term supporters. The ordinary people have suffered as a result of that approach. Every effort should be made to make sure that there is worker representation from the various trade unions involved in the transport industry on the authority. The make-up of the authority should take into account the need to achieve the 40% gender balance target on State boards.

I hope to be given the opportunity of raising these issues on Committee Stage. I call on Members on all sides of the House to allow the Bill progress to Committee Stage so that a fuller debate on transport can take place.

Mr. Connolly: Information on Paudge Connolly  Zoom on Paudge Connolly  I wish to share time with Deputy Finian McGrath.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  The Deputy is sharing time with Deputy Finian McGrath.

Mr. Connolly: Information on Paudge Connolly  Zoom on Paudge Connolly  I welcome the opportunity to comment on this proposed legislation. The amalgamation of the National Roads Authority and the National Rail Procurement Agency makes sound sense. The new authority will be a more broadly-based and representative agency and no doubt will have a broader overview of transport countrywide.

I understand the Minister, Deputy Brennan, has announced the first motorway to be built by public private partnership, the 39 km. route between Kilcock and Kinnegad, at an initial estimated cost of €420 million. I hope it will remain at that price through to its completion.

A new and welcome feature of the contract is the clause which stipulates that if five or more cars are queuing at the toll booth, the toll gates must be lifted, at the tolling contractor's expense, until the congestion has eased or a heavy fine will be imposed. I foresee confusion arising, with gates being lifted sporadically when congestion arises. I hope that aspect of the contract has been thoroughly thought out by the Road Transport Authority, as it will now be known.

Arguments in favour of toll roads have been laced with references to free market principles, supply and demand and economic incentives. Any motorway of any consequence falls flat from the word “go” when we talk about market principles. Motorway routes are not assembled by willing buyers competing with other willing buyers who must negotiate with willing or unwilling sellers who are also in competition with one another. The National Transport Authority will identify the route it wants, establish what it considers to be a politically and judicially acceptable price and slap a compulsory purchase order on the land involved. Figuratively, this is market principles at the end of a gun barrel.

The number of potential road candidates for tolling is limited, primarily because of public resistance to imposing tolls on previously free [825] roads. The Minister has attempted to fly a few kites concerning the possibility of tolling existing roads but his suggestions have evoked public outcries due in no small part to public aversion to double taxation, having already paid their taxes many times over for these roads.

The funds generated by tolling new roads, if set in a way that reflects the cost of congestion, such as the central London congestion charge, could help decrease traffic delays for motorists who place a high value on their time or who are willing to pay. Other traffic would remain on toll free but more congested routes. However, toll roads can have significant social impacts in the manner and location of their construction and operation. These can be positive, providing improved access for some areas of the country, and negative, in degrading the environment around the road, for example, under an elevated urban motorway. Tolls can discourage unnecessary trips and therefore provide environmental benefits. However, traffic which diverts onto roads which pass through residential neighbourhoods will reduce the environmental benefits the new roads will provide.

The most promising candidates for toll roads in the shorter term are new roads and because these roads are new, motorists should have the alternative option of taking the toll free routes that were used before the new roads were built, thereby diminishing the effects on motorists. The fledgling National Transport Authority should direct its energies towards providing a quality roads infrastructure which would increase this country's attraction as a tourism destination.

Ireland lags behind some of the EU accession countries. This year, in advance of its forthcoming tourism season, Croatia, which is in the next tier of EU applicants for the year 2007, announced the completion of an extra 140 km. of motorway. In my constituency, both Cavan and Monaghan have been designated as hub towns under the Government's recently announced national spatial strategy. It is vital that local area framework plans be developed involving local authorities, both Monaghan County Council and its counterpart in Cavan, to jointly plan major transport infrastructure projects for these growth areas. Unless the appropriate infrastructure is provided, the spatial strategy will be in severe danger of being derailed and it will be incumbent on the new authority to prevent this from happening.

The National Transport Authority could also examine the possibility of developing a central or spinal north-south route through the middle of the country to complement the north-south coastal route which links Larne with the port of Rosslare. The NTA has a mammoth task ahead in fulfilling its objectives and I wish it well.

Mr. F. McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  I welcome the Bill. It will broaden the focus of transportation planning and [826] the provision of infrastructure by amalgamating the National Roads Authority and National Rail Procurement Agency. This makes sense for the transport and traffic areas. We need radical ideas to deal with the existing crisis and the Bill is a major step in the right direction.

Section 1 sets out a sensible and professional approach. We must co-ordinate transport planning and economic analysis of the proposed road and public transport projects to provide the Minister with an advisory priority listing and work schedule for major infrastructural projects.

This debate is relevant to the construction of the Dublin Port tunnel and the disgraceful way the people of Marino, Fairview and Santry are being treated by senior management in Dublin City Council and the tunnel company. The port tunnel is causing major problems in the area, with homes being damaged, noise pollution and a complete lack of respect for local residents. Despite many promises and guarantees, trust has broken down completely and the people are sick to the back teeth of the attitude of the tunnel promoters.

So far six homes have been damaged, with another 309 vulnerable to future damage. The damage to these houses was caused by the tunnel boring machine. Dublin City Council and the contractor, NMI, have admitted to knowing that tunnelling was directly responsible for substantial damage to at least six houses in the Annadale and Marino areas. Despite this, they have no intention of stopping or slowing down the tunnel boring machine and have made no serious changes to their work practices or methods to prevent damage to more houses. They are three to four months behind schedule and have ignored all residents' pleas to stop further damage. Already some residents are considering legal action or direct action, such as blockading or picketing the entrance to the tunnel. The tunnel has gone way beyond budget and that is also unacceptable.

The section in the Bill that guarantees trade union involvement in the authority is essential. Were it not for the members of SIPTU working on the Dublin Port tunnel, residents would not have discovered what was happening. The workers discovered a lethal mix of poisons, including lead, zinc, mercury, copper and arsenic, along the route of the tunnel, none of which were natural constituents of the soil. They discovered a variety of heavy metals in thousands of tonnes of soil taken from Fairview Park and vast quantities of hospital and domestic waste close to the River Tolka and Dublin Bay. One can imagine the nightmare scenario if such waste got into either the bay or the river. Finally, they came across pipes through the site metres from the contaminated earth that carries water to the East Point Business Park and East Wall community. This information has been confirmed by Cal Limited, a Dún Laoghaire based chemical analysis [827] company. The consortium heading the €500 million project, NMI, planned to place this contaminated soil back over the tunnel and many people are naturally concerned about this.

The Minister must act on the question of the Dublin Port tunnel. There should be an immediate investigation by the Department of Health and Children and the health board into the health and safety issues raised by the tunnel. The Minister for Transport must end the secrecy and spin surrounding the project. Many different stories are floating around the northside about the Dublin Port Tunnel and there is serious concern about potential pollution of the River Tolka and Dublin Bay. Yesterday, members of the Minister's own party on Dublin City Council backed my emergency motion which supported the residents of Marino whose homes have been damaged by recent tunnelling. We also demanded that all families receive fair compensation and that concerned residents be given an up to date safety report. The Minister should consider a reduction in the speed of the tunnel boring machine that is causing the problem. The 30 metre zone of influence must also be doubled because many families outside that area are also seeing damage to their houses. The independent consultant, Dr. De Freitas, must be recalled from London to assist, advise and support the residents.

Section 4 states that the authority should carry out regular cost estimates and work programme reviews on the major transport projects being carried out by the State. It is strong on efficiency, professionalism and accountability. This is the way forward because it increases productivity.

Section 6 states that each member of the authority will be a person who, in the opinion of the Minister, has wide experience and competence in one or more of the following – railways, transportation, planning, urban development, environmental sustainability, industry and others. This will further introduce a professional attitude to transport planning.

Section 5 ensures that decisions cannot be made without the approval of Dáil Éireann, ensuring democratic accountability and a progressive way forward in terms of transport and the broader political community.

This is a sensible Bill that shows a clear vision for transport in the future. It has the potential to change our transport system and old fashioned ideas about transport. We must be more radical and creative in planning for the railways. There must be serious investment to attract passengers and to remove heavy trucks from the roads. Trains are a part of the future and ignoring that reality will spell disaster for transport policy. This Bill will assist that vision and I urge all Deputies to support it. To reject the Bill is to turn one's back on quality and efficient planning for our transport needs in the future.

[828]Minister for Transport (Mr. Brennan): Information on Seamus Brennan  Zoom on Seamus Brennan  I acknowledge the work the Green Party has put into this legislation and I have no difficulty with the vision behind it – the better integration of our public transport system. Neither do I have a problem with looking at the balance of the investment between roads and railways as we must always keep an eye on that. Some years it is out of sync and other years it is more favourable, depending on the profile of capital investment, which can vary.

The new Department of Transport, however, was put in place precisely to conduct such policy work. Before the Government was formed, national roads were dealt with by the Department of the Environment and Local Government and the railway network was handled by the Department of Public Enterprise. The case could be made that it was difficult to co-ordinate the crucial decisions in investment alternatives between road and rail in circumstances where different Departments were responsible for different areas.

I accept this idea is good and that we should do more to co-ordinate and integrate. In rejecting the Bill, I do so in the spirit of agreeing with the principle of better integration while pointing out that the new Department of Transport exists precisely for that purpose. Having regard to the position of the State in the context of road versus rail transport, it would be extremely undemocratic to hand over responsibility for those policy issues to an appointed board of individuals, as proposed in the Bill. Accordingly, I suggest, reluctantly, that this Bill is not the way to proceed. I believe it would create a void by abolishing two existing agencies, the NRA and the RPA, which are currently delivering projects. It proposes to replace them with a co-ordinating, advising, liaising role. As it is drafted – I appreciate that the proposers of the Bill do not have the back-up which is available to Government – it is a toothless and limbless Bill which concentrates on advising and liaising.

The Bill does not propose to give the new agency any real powers, such as negotiating and financing contracts or implementing a single piece of transport infrastructure. In many ways, the Bill abolishes essential functions of existing agencies without doing anything to replace them. The functions which it allocates to the new agency are clearly those which should be carried out by the new Department of Transport, in terms of policy issues which should not be handed over to individual appointees of any Minister. Section 4 of the Bill does not assign responsibility for the delivery of projects. In the case of the RPA, the Bill also, effectively, removes very important powers which are necessary for the delivery of metro and light rail. For example, it removes the power to acquire, hold and dispose of land, procure light rail services and negotiate contracts. Similarly, in relation to the NRA, the [829] Bill does not deal with the practical issues of “who does what”.

While accepting, as it were, the decent thought behind the Bill, the Bill as drafted, in effect, sets out to abolish two organisations which are working flat out to achieve something and to replace them with an authority without authority. The proposed authority is only required—

Mr. Boyle: Information on Dan Boyle  Zoom on Dan Boyle  On a point of order, the Opposition is prohibited from introducing legislation which involves a charge on the State.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Rory O'Hanlon  Zoom on Rory O'Hanlon  That is not a point of order. The Deputy should allow the Minister to continue.

Mr. Brennan: Information on Seamus Brennan  Zoom on Seamus Brennan  I acknowledge that Opposition Members are not permitted to propose measures involving a charge on the State.

Mr. Boyle: Information on Dan Boyle  Zoom on Dan Boyle  We could accept amendments put forward by the Minister.

Mr. Brennan: Information on Seamus Brennan  Zoom on Seamus Brennan  The Bill which is now before the House and on which we will be expected to vote seeks to amalgamate the RPA and the NRA into a new authority without transposing that authority into the new legislation. That is a point worth bringing to the attention of the House. What the Deputies opposite are saying is that if they had the power to do so, they would have included sections in the Bill to give the required power to the authority. I accept that point.

At a meeting of the Public Transport Forum in November 2002, I set out my proposals for the regulatory and structural reform of public transport in Ireland. My objective in that regard is the delivery of more services of better quality and greater transparency and accountability and to ensure that transport operators, of which I hope there will be a number, will be clear as to what is required of them. I am proposing the establishment of an independent regulator for public transport, not just in the greater Dublin area but also, in due course, outside that area. I have not finally decided on the precise form of that regulation but will soon do so.

The Government must continue to have overall responsibility for policy matters but need not always have responsibility for operational matters. It is vitally important that the procurement and regulation of public transport services is undertaken within a clear policy framework set down by Government. The regulatory framework which I envisage will allocate current capital funding to a regulatory authority which, in turn, will allocate it to operators on a basis laid down in policy and legislation by this House. The new independent regulatory authority which I foresee will procure bus and commuter services in the Dublin area and will allocate State funding on the basis of public service contracts with Dublin Bus, [830] Bus Éireann and private operators. It will also negotiate multi-annual service contracts, regulate public transport fares, enforce quality and standards and approve the relevant service contracts.

The Bill before the House would take virtually all policy formulation away from the Government of the day. I am opposed to the allocation of such major policy work to an appointed board. It is much more democratic that the Government, the Minister of the day, and this House should retain responsibility for policy decisions as to whether we build roads or railways rather than handing that vital function over to a board nominated by a Minister. Such a board might take an independent course, perhaps without reference to this House. For example, it might decide to build a transport system consisting of 80% railways and 20% roads, or vice versa. That is an unduly onerous policy issue to hand over to an appointed board of that nature.

Strong and effective action on traffic management is, of course, required throughout the Dublin area. We have to make more progress in developing an effective system of bus priorities, including additional bus lanes which will shortly come on stream. A project team has been established by the Director of Traffic for that purpose. We are also developing a clear and robust strategic land use and transportation planning framework. One cannot develop public transport investment in isolation. There has to be a land use and spatial strategy aspect to the development of transportation policy. All those elements must be properly integrated. My proposals will provide a very clear framework for the future regulation of public transport services.

While I take the point made earlier by Deputy Boyle, the proposals in this Bill appear to involve a purely advisory role, without any of the powers a regulatory authority should have, outside the financial area. Public transport in this country is obviously in need of reform. I have already set out some of the required reforms and will have more to say in that regard soon. I do not believe the establishment of the type of authority proposed in this Bill would bring about the necessary reforms. The RPA is there to undertake the task of developing the Luas and the metro. The NRA has the task of developing our road system. In my view, those bodies should be allowed to get on with those responsibilities rather than being interrupted by some new reshuffling of deck chairs.

I am committed to the creation of a high quality transport service to tackle existing bottlenecks and congestion and to support a vigorous programme of spatial development aimed at rebalancing growth as between the regions. The new, integrated, single Department of Transport was put in place by the Taoiseach at the formation of this Government to give effect to that focus. Communications and other areas of responsibility of the former Department of Public Enterprise [831] have now been assigned elsewhere, with the result that the new Department of Transport can concentrate on issues such as those brought forward this evening by the Deputies opposite. In the final analysis, I and my Department are responsible to this House for the strategies which we assign to the agencies.

I am opposed to giving an agency the type of powers proposed in this Bill. The role of agencies should be to carry out the policies determined by the Government and this House. They should not be given a broad policy brief which is more properly the responsibility of the Members of this House. The job of the RPA is to develop light rail and metro services, enter into PPP agreements, develop concessions and joint ventures and acquire property where that will contribute to the economic viability of the rail network. The RPA is also developing an integrated ticketing system, which is an important facility for Dublin city and the country in general. It has also taken over the light rail project office of CIE in relation to the construction of Luas. The construction of the two lines from Tallaght to Connolly Station and from Sandyford to St. Stephen's Green is progressing.

I recently announced the updated completion dates supplied to me by the RPA – May 2004 for the Tallaght to Connolly Station line and March 2004 for the Sandyford to St. Stephen's Green line. However, one should add three months in each case for testing and commissioning. I have conveyed my concerns, privately and publicly, to the RPA about those new dates, insisting that there must be no further delays in delivery of those projects. I noted the Deputies' comments about the costs of the metro system. On another occasion, I will be happy to outline to the House the overall situation in that regard. No decision with regard to the metro has been taken at this time. The RPA is to bring forward an outline business case. The figures which have been published in the newspapers were the figures suggested to me in a presentation from the RPA. I have yet to examine those fully. At an appropriate time, we can have a debate in this House on the metro. I do not accept the costs at the level at which they are suggested and I believe we can make real progress on that issue.

The final costs of projects are determined by many factors, including the cost of property, route alignment, construction inflation and CPOs. This House might soon consider proposals from the Government on how we might sort out some of these infrastructural issues. In short, the country is coming down with plans in the transport area. The options have been studied to death. We are overloaded with agencies. Frankly what is required now is delivery on all of these projects. We know what has to be done. Between all of us, we have a habit of taking seven or eight years to do some[832] thing that should be done in three or four years. That will test the belief of this House and of the Government in what types of changes are acceptable to shorten that timeframe.

I am looking at the possibility of a special infrastructure Bill which will deal with issues of land ownership for critical infrastructures, both above and below the ground. It will deal with the issues of compulsory purchase orders and who makes them. It will deal with the issues of the role of the local authorities in regard to the NRA, what that role should be and how strong it should be in the future. I hope it will deal with the issues of how we acquire property, and particularly what length of appeals are permitted and how we might bring some finality to appeals.

The delays in projects undertaken do not usually begin from the moment we start digging. They begin from the moment we decide to undertake a project until we start turning the first sod and they can run into years. We have to shorten that cycle. If we do so, we will reduce the cost. If something is down for nine years and one can do it in four, one will do it much cheaper because the sum one factors in for risk will reduce dramatically, as will inflation and other costs. This House must look at the speed with which we deliver.

There is not that much difference between us in this House on what must be delivered. Nobody in this House is against upgrading the Galway-Dublin railway line, the Luas or building motorways to Cork, Limerick or Waterford. Deputy Eamon Ryan is against building motorways but I would like to hear him say clearly on the record that his party is against building those motorways. I believe we must build motorways to the main cities and we are doing so. We must provide high-speed intercity services and more investment in commuter rail services. While there is not much difference between us on what must be done, we might soon start to look at how quickly we can start to address it.

I saw Deputy Eamon Ryan's press release earlier – somebody does take account of what he says. He stated in it that public spending on roads is six times higher than on public transport. Spending on roads this year is €1.2 billion and the investment in the railway is €400 million. According to my sums, that is a ratio of 3:1. I do not want to get picky about that, but his press release stated it was 6:1 and I would hate the public to hear that on the airwaves when in fact the ratio is 3:1.

The ratio is probably better than 3:1 because he was referring to public transport and buses use these roads. If he only includes rail, then he would get a better ratio. We need to build the roads for the buses and I presume the Deputy is in favour of buses, which are a form of public transport for places where we cannot put down railway tracks for all sorts of reasons.

[833]I am opposed to the legislation for those reasons, not for the genuine thinking behind it but for the fact that it would be an administrative mess. It would take away from the NRA and the RPA the focus which they now have to forge ahead. If we were to try to re-scramble this egg instead of letting them proceed, it would set projects back years. I ask the House to reject the legislation on those grounds.

Mr. O'Connor: Information on Charlie O'Connor  Zoom on Charlie O'Connor  While I also oppose the Bill, I compliment my Green Party colleagues on introducing it.

Mr. S. Ryan: Information on Seán Ryan  Zoom on Seán Ryan  The Deputy will hardly go against the Minister.

Mr. O'Connor: Information on Charlie O'Connor  Zoom on Charlie O'Connor  I am a strong supporter of this Minister. Not only do I marvel at the amount of work he does and the extent of what he has achieved, but we share a constituency boundary. There are many people in Firhouse who claim they used to support Séamus Brennan and now support Charlie O'Connor, and that is okay by me.

Mr. Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten  Zoom on Denis Naughten  The Deputy is looking forward to the next boundary review.

Mr. O'Connor: Information on Charlie O'Connor  Zoom on Charlie O'Connor  No, I am quite happy with my boundaries.

I also congratulate my party colleague, Deputy Brennan, who, in the 292 days he has been Minister for Transport, has moved at great speed and has shown particular tenacity in dealing with the transport organisations listed in his Department's portfolio. Deputy Brennan has shown that improvements can be achieved, that change will be implemented in all transport sectors and that the cultures which exist at all levels within our transport related organisations, must change quickly. It is important that public sector employees and managers remember that they are there to serve their customers and not to maintain their own personal empires. Change is never easy but there must be change. Through internal partnership-style discussions and industrial relations networks, I look forward to seeing all involved embracing change and not holding it back because of vested interests.

We now have a Minister who is delivering and who will not become a victim of red tape or the departmental project board syndrome, where the problem goes in this month and comes out in three years when the solution is no longer relevant. I hope he keeps up the momentum. Many colleagues and I will confirm that our constituents support his deeds to date and look forward to enjoying the transport solutions that I believe are on the way.

In the past I have mentioned how important the Luas project is to me personally and to my constituents, and I need not remind the House [834] where my constituents live. However, I want to make a couple of points to which I was glad to hear the Minister refer. While supporting the Minister, I would also say to him that I am not necessarily a fan of the agencies. It is important that we would retain our right to criticise when criticism is due. I have often raised issues with the NRA and, recently, with the Railway Procurement Agency. It is right to do so and we need to continue to do that. In doing so I am not stifled by being a Government backbencher.

What is the Railway Procurement Agency at? It seems to be engaging in a singular policy to upset and delay Luas, which is clearly a much-needed project. I will, on this occasion, list only three areas where it has undermined confidence in the Luas project in my constituency of Dublin South-West. First, the project, as the Minister conceded, is grossly behind schedule. This is hard to understand when one considers the amount of money spent and available, and the number of contractors involved. One must remember that the bulk of the land covered by the Luas had already been purchased in many parts of Tallaght and Kingswood, and had lain waste for many years. With significant overspends on the project, where is the accountability from the agency for these delays and overspends? Where does the responsibility rest within the agency on these matters? The answer seems to get lost in a mist of silence.

Second, I find it incredible that communications with householders and community associations along the Luas route appear at face value to have dried up. It appears that the public and community groups are unable to get all the information they require and in many situations are left with no responses to the issues they raise. I and other colleagues have asked a number of parliamentary questions in this regard in recent times. I remind the managers of the railway procurement agency that these same residents pay for the organisation and, as a committed supporter of the Government's strategic management initiative, I want to remind the agency that it states that the customer is to be the main focus of all public sector endeavours.

Even on the public relations front, the planning of the interchange at the Red Cow roundabout is a debacle. The commuters who use this area say that on a daily basis it cannot work and that a tunnel or a bridge should have been part of the plan. The excuse that traffic volumes have exceeded estimates only serves to point out that the agency in charge of planning is not on the ball. While on the subject of planning the Luas line, I will state once again that there is both an economic and a social justification for the Luas to be extended, in my area of Tallaght, into Old Bawn, through west Tallaght and on to Citywest. I have said this at every opportunity in the House. It makes no sense whatsoever not to extend the [835] Luas line through Tallaght and out to Saggart and it should be done now. Otherwise, it will have to be done in the future at much greater cost.

Mr. S. Ryan: Information on Seán Ryan  Zoom on Seán Ryan  The Deputy needs a different Government.

Mr. O'Connor: Information on Charlie O'Connor  Zoom on Charlie O'Connor  It is not for me to speculate when there might be a different Government, but I see no sign of it.

Mr. Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten  Zoom on Denis Naughten  It could be sooner than the Deputy thinks.

Mr. O'Connor: Information on Charlie O'Connor  Zoom on Charlie O'Connor  I do not know about that. If it happens in 20 years, Deputy Naughten will be doing well.

I am not happy to admit it, but I travel to the House most days in my car. I am sorry about that. I would much prefer to do it some other way, but I do not have the energy every day to walk the nine miles – although some nights I feel so invigorated by life in the House that I feel like walking – and public transport is a challenge. Every day as I pass through Tallaght and south west Dublin and watch the work being done, I eagerly await the completion of the Luas. I hope I have the opportunity of making use of what I believe will be a fine part of the city's transport structure.

It is important that this debate takes place. I am a supporter of Private Members' Business. That is not to say, however, that I will ever vote against the Government – I have been telling journalists in Tallaght recently, in answer to this routine question, that the answer is “No way”. I believe that I have a strong role to play as a Government backbencher, bringing the problems of my constituents into the House and, through the Ministers, to the Government. It is important that we all take the opportunity of doing this.

I complimented the Green Party on its introduction of this Bill earlier on. This discussion is important as it gives all of us the opportunity of raising our concerns. I am not afraid to articulate the problems as I see them. I am glad to acknowledge the presence of the Minister of State, Deputy McDaid, and he should know that it is important that we listen to what the communities are saying to us. As I mentioned earlier, even though the Minister for Transport is making progress, there are still challenges out there. I thank him for allowing me to share his time.

Mr. Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten  Zoom on Denis Naughten  I wish to share my time with Deputies Pat Breen and Seán Ryan.

I welcome the opportunity of speaking on this Bill and I commend the Green Party for introducing it and giving us the opportunity of debating the issue of transport and the lack of action that has taken place since this Government took office nearly six years ago. The personal, abject failure of the Minister, Deputy Brennan, to expedite the [836] solution of the escalating crisis in transport in the Dublin area is a perfect example of the Government's gross inability to manage public projects. We remember the hype over Luas. Its introduction was scheduled for 2003 and, since then, every five minutes. Tonight the Minister has publicly admitted that this project, already late and over budget, is now running a further three months behind schedule.

The Luas system in Deputy O'Connor's constituency is a sham. The Red Cow interchange is a joke and will cause traffic chaos as soon as it commences operation. Some genius decided to put a park-and-ride facility at Newlands Cross without putting either an overpass or an underpass in place, so that everyone using the facility will have to cross over to the southern side of the Naas Road. This sort of thing is happening throughout the country. The Minister cannot set costs, control budgets or manage projects. He is confusing public relations with public life. He cannot differentiate between announcing a project and actually delivering on it. His only motto is that a promise a day keeps reality away, and the Minister, based on what Deputy O'Connor said, has made 292 promises in his last 292 days in office. If he stayed in office for another 292 months he still would not deliver on projects planned under the national development plan. I would not inflict that on any country or any constituency.

The Minister's ineptitude has actually reduced the average travel speed on some Dublin city routes to 5 mph. That is slower than travelling by ass and cart a hundred years ago. The gridlock in the capital is costing city businesses more than €650 million per annum. We need, as a matter of urgency, a single transport authority to deal with these grave problems. At the moment there are 23 different Departments, Government agencies and non-governmental organisations involved in traffic management. We urgently need not only a Dublin authority but a national authority with responsibility for transport throughout the country. It should immediately be given responsibility for traffic management, transport infrastructure and public transport and analyse the possibility of integrated land-use planning. This Bill is a positive step in this direction, even though it has some flaws. The Minister has pointed out one of those flaws, namely the lack of accountability to the House. That Bill can be amended on Committee Stage, however, to provide that level of accountability.

The Minister spoke about his plans tonight. He has done this ad nauseam since he was appointed. He has never, however, addressed the issue of how to make use of our existing assets, some of which could be utilised tomorrow morning to benefit the people of this city. Grand schemes overshadow practical, inexpensive and short-term solutions. For example, the Phoenix Park tunnel is a double rail line going from Heuston to Con[837] nolly Station, which could provide a metro system through the city centre tomorrow morning. The Minister's solution is to spend €1 billion to sink a new tunnel under the River Liffey. The network is already there, fully signalled and up to date, but Iarnród Éireann is using every excuse in the book not to avail of it. That rail line is an easy, inexpensive way to provide a metro solution in the capital. It would bring people into the city centre, rather than dumping them nearly three miles away, so they could connect with the other public transport systems.

In tandem with this, we need to address the issue of a central corridor between Connolly and Pearse Stations. Iarnród Éireann has cancelled the budget for that project, although it recently advertised for tenders. If built, it could increase rail capacity in the city centre, allowing for more trains to pass through.

Iarnród Éireann's advertising slogan is, “We're not there yet, but we're getting there.” It says there are 67 new carriages on the way, but fails to tell us that they are only replacing 67 carriages that are to be decommissioned. There will not be one new carriage on the inter-city network when those carriages come into the system. No additional capacity will be provided. In every other European country, carriages are leased. Diesel multiple units like the Arrow provide commuter services throughout the UK. There is no reason for not doing the same thing here. It would provide commuter services for a fraction of the cost. For example, we have been talking for years about re-opening the Clonsilla-Navan line. A rail line runs today from Navan, via Slane and Duleek, to Drogheda, which could provide a commuter service for the people of Navan tomorrow morning if the political will was there – if the Government was committed to doing it. We could do it by leasing carriages, putting them on the track relatively quickly, but the Government is not prepared to do that.

On the Atlantic rail corridor, Irish Rail is pulling up more of the rail line every week. Yet there is a group in Galway which through a public private partnership is prepared to open part of that line and provide a commuter service into Galway city. There are other towns and cities along that route where commuter services could be developed tomorrow morning and then services along the rest of the Atlantic corridor could be developed. It would connect the cities, towns and many rural communities along the western corridor to international markets by using the ports at Rosslare, Waterford and Foynes. The rail line to Foynes Port is gathering dust even though the investment is being put in. The state-of-the-art deep-water port, which is the best in the country, is lying idle because Irish Rail is not prepared to use and develop those facilities.

Who honestly believes the Minister when he says the Dublin metro link to the airport will be [838] completed by 2007? However, we could provide it relatively quickly for a fraction of the cost by way of a spur off the Maynooth line or more logically a spur off the northern line via Swords, a large town with no facilities. The Government is not prepared to prioritise that.

Roads provide the predominant internal transport in the country, carrying 95% of passengers and 93% of freight. I disagree with Deputy Eamon Ryan's position on the motorways. Nobody could logically say there is no need for a new motorway between Athlone and Ballinasloe in my constituency. The original proposal in the needs study of the National Roads Authority was for a reduced width dual carriageway along that section of road. There would be slaughter every day if that were to go ahead.

There is need for investment in motorways but the Government's budgets have gone crazy. The national roads programme has targeted 800 kilometres of motorway costing more than €22 billion and rising daily. The total budget under the national development plan is €40 billion. There is a huge shortfall in the budget for our roads. Many of those roads will not be completed until at least 2009, which the Minister has yet failed to admit. Only 12 of the 34 roads projects that were to go ahead this year will get the green light. This is a typical sham by Government, trying to fudge the issues and not give the figures, as it should. We have yet to see accurate figures for the costs of those roads projects.

In the short-term we should better utilise our existing road space. We should have Operation Freeflow on a 365-day basis to relieve the congestion in this city. We should extend the opening hours of Dublin Port so that we do not have heavy goods vehicles travelling along the quays during rush hour. The Minister's solution is the Dublin Port tunnel, which will not be able to take 10% of the heavy goods vehicles when it opens. The Minister's typical Irish solution to an Irish problem is to ban lorries from the roads. The Minister obviously does not realise the tight margins to which many in the haulage industry are operating at the moment and their need to increase the size of their vehicles.

Last year Dublin Bus received 28 extra busses which was about one third of what it received in 2000. Because of the comments of the Minister for Transport the spotlight is now focused on deregulation. However he has failed to provide a comprehensive plan on how deregulation should happen. Unplanned and unco-ordinated public transport deregulation in the capital and outside would lead to a hybrid which would ultimately not serve the consumer who must be king on this. A key element of introducing a deregulated transport system and competition in Dublin is integrated ticketing. The Minister has revealed in answer to parliamentary questions that it will be at least 2005 before there will be integrated tick[839] eting in the city of Dublin not to mention throughout the country. He cannot introduce competition without integrated ticketing and we have yet to see that happen.

Park and ride facilities were initially promised in 1991 and that has been policy since 1993. However, we still do not have park and ride facilities in this city. The quality bus corridors are being let down by the lack of such facilities. It is ironic that the DTO states that park and ride facilities will not work, yet at the Dart stations where they are provided people are using them. Irish Rail has returned funds to the Department to provide park and ride facilities because it cannot utilise them. That is the kind of issue that is leading to frustration.

Everyone on this side of the House and privately everyone on the other side will agree that section 1 of this Bill is probably the most significant element of it. This provides for the abolition of an unaccountable organisation such as the National Roads Authority. I am sure representatives of the NRA will read the report of the debate tonight and I will get a nice little letter next week about it. The National Roads Authority is unaccountable to this House and until that changes we will see legislation like this coming forward. We must ensure that we get the accountability required.

Mr. P. Breen: Information on Pat Breen  Zoom on Pat Breen  I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill and I commend the Green Party for introducing it. It is a very important Bill that links the future development plan of transport with local authorities and Departments. Transport, whether rail or road, is the key to the economic development of any town or city. While I welcome the new Department of Transport and the fact that responsibility for roads now rests with the Minister, Deputy Brennan, and not with the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, we need much more integration and above all accountability.

Proper planning is needed in today's ever-changing world. We look back at the many mistakes made in the 1960s and 1970s as a result of Government policy to close down many of the railway lines in favour of the road network. This was a great error of judgment and as a result many goods vehicles took over our national primary, secondary and regional routes. The large number of vehicles on the roads has led to many fatalities and the need for continual road restoration and repairs at enormous cost to the Exchequer.

Today Iarnród Éireann has the same policy and only wants to develop profitable intercity routes. It is not interested in the development of freight transport, which represents another bad judgment and is short-sighted. A national transport authority could address this issue. When the [840] strategic rail review is published in the near future, I hope it addresses the question of proper regional balance. The railway line between Ennis and Limerick is currently being upgraded and by the end of the year there will be a proper continuous welded railway system in place which will cut the journey time by half and will, I hope, provide a commuter service linking Ennis to Limerick and to the intercity routes. While I welcome this development, it only addresses part of the problem. The line from Ennis to Galway must be completed to open up the western corridor to link Ennis to Athenry, Galway, Claremorris and Sligo. This should be part of any future balanced regional development. Towns like this can only realise industrial and tourism growth with the proper road and rail infrastructure.

In recent times, local authorities have prepared local area plans to address proper industrial planning and the housing needs of local communities. While this is again a welcome development it must be done in conjunction with the development of proper access. Recently the road building projects have gone out of control, which will have an adverse effect on future developments. The road building programme is way behind schedule with many important projects not envisioned to be completed for many years. Costs are totally out of control, there is little accountability and the future of important road projects looks uncertain.

An Ennis bypass was promised 20 years ago, indeed many planning applications were held up as we were told the by-pass was going ahead. The Ennis bypass still has not commenced. While it was to commence in 2001, the tender process was suspended.

Mr. McDaid: Information on James McDaid  Zoom on James McDaid  It is due to start this summer.

Mr. P. Breen: Information on Pat Breen  Zoom on Pat Breen  The Government made many promises before it came to office that the bypass would commence in 2003. It has not commenced yet and we have had no written confirmation that it will commence in 2004. The Ennis bypass is of central importance to the development of the west, industrial development in the town of Ennis itself and the development of Shannon Airport. While its original cost was to have been €140 million, by the time contracts are signed it will have substantially increased. If we had a national transport authority, priority would be given to projects such as the Ennis bypass.

The Northern Ireland roads authority and the NRA recently addressed the Joint Committee on Transport. The efficiency of the NRA was evident. It has accountability for all roads, even including footpaths. While the NRA is an independent authority, the Minister still dictates the projects that go ahead each year.

An independent board to co-ordinate road, rail and all forms of public transport, made up of [841] people with experience in the field could liaise with local authorities and the Government. It would be a welcome development and could be a watchdog for public spending.

Mr. S. Ryan: Information on Seán Ryan  Zoom on Seán Ryan  Given the limited resources available to the smaller parties, I compliment the Green Party on its initiative in introducing this Bill. The Bill is imperfect and there are elements on which the Labour Party would differ from the Green Party. I will deal with the broad principles of the Bill. This Bill seeks to introduce a co-ordinated transport authority with a view to prioritising public transport projects and ensuring they will be carried through. There must also be a co-ordinated approach to strategic planning, which unfortunately does not currently exist.

In his contribution, the Minister referred to a platform for change. The decision of the Government to withhold funding from Iarnród Éireann for infrastructural improvements along the central corridor between Connolly Station and Barrack Street is scandalous. This is required as it would facilitate the increase from 12 to 16 trains per hour at peak periods. The decision to defer these works to phase two of the DASH programme will have major implications for existing and potential commuters in the new growth areas of greater Dublin as the necessary works will not commence before 2006.

What is going to happen before then? It is expected that 80 new rail carriages will be brought into operation before the end of 2003. This will facilitate the replacement of old stock and the provision of eight-carriage trains. The net effect of this is the provision of approximately 2,000 places for commuters at peak periods on the northern suburban line. As a result of the decision to withhold funding, this will be the only increase in capacity between 2003 and 2008 at the earliest. This is an outrageous decision that reflects the lack of Government commitment towards the proper planning and development of the rail system.

We have copies of the strategic planning guidelines which outline major residential developments in existing towns and villages along the rail corridors. This is as it should be. For example, 8,500 dwellings will be built in Fingal between now and 2006. Houses in my constituency are being sold on the basis of the availability of a quality rail service. Such a service is not available and will not become available unless the Government decision is overturned. The problem of chronic overcrowding on trains is causing grief, stress and frustration for commuters. At peak periods commuters, including young children, are literally being squeezed onto trains. Some pregnant women bring their own seats onto the trains. Incidents of people fainting are regular occurrences on trains that passengers call the “Sardine Expresses”.

[842]The net effect of this problem is the people of Fingal and commuters on the rail system throughout the greater Dublin area are suffering deterioration in the quality of their lives. This does not even begin to reflect the implications of the Government strategy, “Strategic Planning Guidelines for the Region”, driven by the Minister for the Environment and Local Government. While the population of Balbriggan has increased threefold to 30,000 and the populations of Rush, Lusk, Donabate, Baldoyle and Portmarnock have also increased, there are no trains to meet the increased demand from commuters.

Unless these matters are given greater priority in funding, we will face utter disaster. There will be further congestion on the roads as the public transport system will not be able to cater for those who live in new housing developments. There is no point in one arm of Government telling local authorities to build homes on the basis of promised transport infrastructure while not meeting its commitments on this. The Government has failed the people of my constituency. It is scandalous that people are mortgaging themselves to the hilt on the basis of a public service provision that will not be fulfilled. It is telling Iarnód Éireann to move into phase two. I seek a positive response from the Minister tomorrow night.

Debate adjourned.

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