Wednesday, 10 July 1985
Seanad Eireann Debate
Minister for Communications (Mr. J. Mitchell): The position here is that CIE's deficit has exceeded its subvention for a number of years. In 1983 it exceeded its subvention by £16 million. Yet the deficit for 1983 was a dramatic improvement on the previous deficit and it was the first time in 15 years that the deficit had been reduced. We are acknowledging the sins and and omissions of previous Governments. If we have not paid CIE what they are entitled to we are making good £30 million of that. They should have been paid it in the past. We have not got the whole £30 million now but we are going to pay it at £3 million per year over the next ten years. Meanwhile CIE can borrow it by way of ten year loan. We will repay the principal and CIE can repay the interest.
Mr. Killilea: We know CIE and their books and accountability and the manner in which they can fix the figures. One year the rail services are not paying and the next year the bus services do not pay and the next year road bus services did not pay. If we want to close a certain section we prepare that 12 months in advance and then suddenly the books are brought out and we know that that particular section loses so much that it could not be kept open and the following year we want to stop something here in Dublin and the year before that the  accountants get together. They sit down in the headquarters and they say, “Let's get the figures” and they drain in and they drain out. It has gone on since day one and I can guarantee that the present Minister or any other Minister will not be able to change it. There is one other matter. The Minister omitted it in his response with regard to the safety emergency plan that I brought up.
Mr. Killilea: The safety emergency plan, concerning the situation in the west coast of Ireland where we have dangerous substances passing every day and night. It is relevant to me and to the community. We have the dangerous substance haulage going through our area to Ballina and to Dublin.
Mr. J. Mitchell: This was dealt with on Question Time in the Dáil some weeks ago. I undertook then in the light of the scare at Athlone to have a review of the entire arrangements for the transportation of dangerous substances and that review is on the way.
Mr. Killilea: That is not the point I raised. There is an emergency plan in operation at this moment. The Western Health Board play a major role in it. If anything happened at 2.30 today with the transportation of a dangerous substance the Western Helath Board, being responsible for hospitalisation, for the doctors and for the theatre services, would not be able to meet the standards required under this emergency plan.
Mr. J. Mitchell: We have had two emergency plans put into operation. One was after the Cherryville accident about 18 months ago and that emergency plan worked extremely well. We had in the last couple of weeks the unfortunate Air India disaster where the emergency plan  in the south-west of the country worked extremely well. We received enormous praise from all over the world and I expect the same would happen in the west.
Mr. J. Mitchell: The position is that there is in each of the new carriages a lever so that if there is any emergency in the carriage the train can be stopped. It is true that there are no vocal communications between the guard and the driver.
Mr. MacDonald: With regard to borrowing for capital purposes I mentioned on Second Stage that I thought CIE should be more imaginative in meeting the services in any area. I was disappointed that the Minister said he was not interested in entertaining representations from people from the provinces who wanted to maintain a semblance of a service in their own areas. It is just not acceptable that CIE or any organisation with a monopoly can completely withdraw from giving a service. I am not quarrelling with the Minister but he has said that the Department of Social Welfare paid £20 million, the Department of Education £29 million. In the Luggacurren area of County Laois, which is a quarter of the county, on 4 June CIE withdrew their only service, which was a two days a week service where the bus from Kilkenny to Dublin deviated at Crettyard and went on to The Swan, Wolfhill and back down to Stradbally. Stradbally is a town with a population of almost 2,000.
Is the Minister saying now that he is going to provide £30 million in back payment of a subsidy that CIE should have got over the years and still leave a huge area of a county without any service? That is unacceptable. I do not care where the money comes from. If there is a £105 million subsidy being paid to CIE I hold that the people in my neck of the  woods are as much entitled to benefit as are the people anywhere else. Why cannot CIE not trim their cloth according to the measure? They run a 52 seater bus across the country roads. Why can they not, where there is a small demand for the service, run the bus on one or two days a week and put in a smaller bus to meet the local demand? They are not being asked to do it for nothing. If it is old age pensioners who use the service they are being paid £22 million a year by the Department of Social Welfare. Bianconi had the mail coaches 100 years ago and the mail was collected twice a day in every post office in my county and there must be 30 of them in the county. Why can they not even fall back to an old mail coach system and at least offer the people some service to get from A to B? I do not accept the Minister's line of argument that he is not open to representation. We are entitled to have a service if it is being paid for by the public.
Mr. J. Mitchell: I want to take issue with Senator McDonald on this. This is the fundamental point. Do Senators genuinely think that buses should be provided whether there are any passengers to use them or not? It is the same with the railways. The Government are paying two-thirds of the CIE subsidy for railways —£70 million, or something of that order — yet railways only account for four per cent of all passenger miles travelled. There is a great nostalgia about the railways. Nobody wants the rail lines cut; no town wants the station closed, yet the vast majority of the population of towns that have stations do not use the railways. So for nostalgic reasons we pay a lot of money for the railways. The fact is that the only services that are cut by CIE are services which are being little used and if they are little used there must be more economic and more viable ways of providing those services. I am not saying that we should abandon rural areas completely because services are being used very little, but we have to think of alternative ways of providing those transport services.
In relation to representations on these  matters, it is to the chairman and board of CIE that Senators, Deputies and others should make their representations and not to me. We have a board appointed to run CIE and for too long in the past we have been interfering in their remits. This interference has now stopped and that is as it should be.
Mr. Durcan: Just to follow the point Senator McDonald made, I agree fully with what the Minister said: you cannot expect to provide a service which is not being used but I also agree with him in that one must be realistic in providing services. It was with that in mind that I made the suggestion that we have in rural Ireland a system of mini-buses servicing the areas which would not provide a full passenger complement on a large bus. There are many areas where there are six, eight, ten or 12 people want to get out of that area and travel 18 or 20 miles to their nearest town and it is areas like that which are being penalised. It seems ridiculous that we have the larger buses providing inter-town services where such a service is not required. What is required is a service by a much smaller vehicle which surely would be much cheaper and which could be much more broadly based, bringing the greatest number of people from the broadest possible areas into the centre of town.
Mr. Killilea: I do not want to interfere in this very fine Fine Gael row which is going on on the opposite side and which seems to be popular in that party these days. I see the points that Senator McDonald and the Minister made but CIE are “codding” both of you. I remember Crettyard for a different reason at one time and I did not yield on it either.
Mr. Killilea: I was right there. I do not know anything about the Crettyard bus service but I guarantee that it is either at mid-day or at four o'clock in the afternoon that that bus comes or goes through Crettyard, and I do not even know where Crettyard is. I could guarantee that the time of that bus service is between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. because that is where CIE have led astray every Government. They said there was no need for the service because they did not have the passengers. That was because they ran the service at a time when it was no good to the public.
I have been trying all day to make this point. I have seen services leaving Galway city at 3.45 in the evening going to Dunmore and Sligo. Who wants to leave Galway city at 3.45 in the evening? I have seen buses — and they still operate — setting off from Sligo via Tuam into Galway city, one leaving Sligo at 10.15 and another leaving at 11.15. Who wants to travel on a bus to Galway at 10.15? It is all right for old age pensioners. They are the best people at getting up early to go to do their shopping and come home in the evening with the workers and fight their corner also. I think CIE just run a service to satisfy the few old age pensioners who want to go shopping and then they tell every Minister, as they have been doing since day one, that the people are not using that service. They are not using the service because CIE are not providing a timetable appropriate to the working public.
That is the long and the short of it. It is nonsense to talk about being able to make representations to CIE. You are wasting your time making representations to them anyhow because they would not listen to you. They would rather spend money on their little mini-vans, running around watching the private enterprise people who are thriving on the stupidity of the sales performance of CIE staff. Private enterprise are dancing upon them and all we can see are two officials sitting in mini-vans writing down who got  into such a private bus and where he got in and where he got out. Two of them can spend a full morning driving around chasing private buses instead of going out and counting the number of people on buses and looking after each area.
CIE do not listen to the public, they do not want to listen to the public but they want their subventions, whether it is £30 million or £108 million. This has gone on since day one and the Minister will not be able to change it under this Bill, no matter how much he praises himself or no matter how much Senator FitzGerald or Senator McDonald or any other one praises him.
Mr. FitzGerald: I would fully support the Minister on the line being adopted in recent times in regard to what might be described as interference with the operation of CIE. If that company are going to progress and improve their economy they have to be allowed to control their own operations. Nonetheless, I feel that we represent the taxpayers in this House as do Members of the other House. It would be a very sad day in this House of the Oireachtas if we did not have a system of communication with CIE. I know individually we have a system of communication with the chairman of CIE. We have had a number of interesting suggestions made today. We have the suggestion of mini-buses in rural Ireland. That may not be economically viable. Those mini-buses could be travelling to different parts of a number of counties over a week. They would not be concentrating on any one part of any one county. We have had suggestions about the aspect of employment and catering for employment. Surely in our present economic straits that should be one of the roles of CIE.
I mentioned oral communication within the mainline trains. I also mentioned the spate of vandalism of the new stations of the DART service. We are here as Members of this House who have the interest to come along and spend some time discussing these subjects. Presumably  in CIE someone at the chairman's office is reading this debate or will be reading this debate, and could respond at least to the Members who have taken the trouble to come in and contribute to it. There could be some detailed response in relation to these issues which are of concern to us, not on a purely local level, but of concern to people generally. With the adoption of the policy, as indicated by the Minister, of not bludgeoning CIE with political demands, there could also be an opening up of some new form of communication with CIE which could be useful in the long run.
Mr. J. Mitchell: Senator FitzGerald can be assured that the debate here will be read avidly by many in CIE. I have no doubt that transcripts of the debate will be circulated among the relevant senior executives. I suggest to Members that if they have representations to make on particular services, or if for instance — taking the point that Senator Killilea and Senator McDonald made — the service is at the wrong time, that is the sort of local knowledge that might be helpful to CIE in deciding to change and it should be given to them directly. I am not sure that this has much to do with section 3 of the Bill which is to increase the capital borrowing limit from £230 million to £250 million. I am sure the House will agree that that should be done.
Mr. McDonald: I want to make it quite clear that I do not quarrel with the Minister and I have already said that I support him in what he is trying to do in order to make this service work. On section 3, which concerns the borrowings of the board, I was just making the point that instead of withdrawing the entire two-day weekly service from the entire Luggacurren area they could have halved it and given a service even one day a week  and not deprived half the country of any service.
Mr. McDonald: I should like the service to continue. I hope that since the Minister has not really encouraged us to make representations, we would not desist from even looking at the progress of this famous semi-State organisation. On the contrary, I think it needs a greater input. I know that in the three or four years I was President of the Transport Commission in Europe, every one of the major organisations there had borrowings for capital purposes. That is very acceptable. Certainly the inter-city transport organisations were, in the main, loss-makers. That should in some way encourage CIE to improve their service. They will not improve their service unless they look at the passenger as the most important person in their entire operation. That is all I am asking the Minister to do — to have regard for the people who require a service. There are thousands of people who do not own motor cars; indeed, they have not even got a donkey and cart nowadays or for that matter a bicycle. I ask the Minister and CIE to concentrate not only on passengers but on the actual potential passengers.
Mr. J. Mitchell: No, sorry; there is no specific allocations included in this £20 million. What we are doing here is to increase the maximum long term borrowing of CIE from £230 million to £250 million. The capital programme to CIE has to be approved. The Aran Island service is something that we are considering. I had a meeting with people from Comhchoiste na gComharchumann from the Aran Islands, and we will be meeting them again in September to report progress on the matter. That is not included in any capital provision for this year.  Clearly, whatever decisions are taken, capital provision will have to be made in the future.
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