Wednesday, 7 April 1993
Seanad Éireann Debate
Minister for the Environment (Mr. M. Smith): Is mian liom buíochas a ghabháil leatsa, a Chathaoirligh, as ucht an fáilte. Tá áthas orm a bheith ar ais sa Seanad agus mo chomhgáirdeachas a dhéanamh leis na Seanadóirí uilig a bhain suíocháin amach sa toghchán le déanaí.
Tá mé fíor-shásta bheith anseo inniu leis an Dara Céim den Bhille seo a chur ós comhair an tSeanaid. Níl aon amhras orm ná go dtuigfidh sibh, i ndiaidh daoibh dul tríd an mBille, cé chomh rí-thábhachtach is atá sé d'fhorbairt infrastructúr na mbóithre sa tír seo. Ní haon áibhéil é a rá gurbh é seo an reachtaíocht is cuimsithí a cuireadh le chéile faoi bhóithre ó bunaíodh an Stát.
Before discussing the content of the Bill, I thank all those who contributed to its development: individuals and organisations who put forward many suggestions and amendments and who were involved in fruitful discussions with officials of my Department. Organisations such as the former Confederation of Irish Industry, the Construction Industry Federation, the County and City Managers' Association, the County and City Engineers' Association took the time to prepare detailed submissions on the Bill.
During its passage through the other House, Deputies from all sides took part in valuable debates on the Bill and a number of Deputies gave of their time to sit on a special committee to deal with the Committee Stage during the summer recess. The Bill was substantially strengthened and extended during its passage through the Dáil and is now a much more comprehensive piece of legislation. Lastly and most importantly I thank the chairman and members of the interim National Roads Authority whose submissions were very useful given that the were based on practical experience of managing the roads programme.
The Bill does two things. First, it provides for the establishment of the National Roads Authority on a statutory basis. This body will spearhead the development of our national road network,  which is of paramount importance to the development of the Irish economy. A top grade national road system enhances our accessibility and increases our export competitiveness by reducing transport costs which are an ever present problem given our peripheral location in Europe. Secondly, the Bill consolidates much of the existing roads law and updates many provisions in order to provide a comprehensive legislative framework for roads which meets modernday needs. It also incorporates some new provisions which I will go into later. I will deal first with the National Roads Authority, the background to why it is being set up, its functions and powers and the task which lies ahead of it.
It is only in recent years that we have started to give priority to investment in the national road network. Prior to that we put very substantial resources into other areas of our economic and social infrastructure — housing, telecommunications, energy, health, education and so on. In the case of roads, for a long time, we gave priority to non-national as distinct from national roads. Another factor which hampered the development of the national road network was the absence of a medium-term planning framework which was mainly due to uncertainty with regard to funding. It is only with the advent of the EC Community Support Framework, covering the period 1989-93, that guaranteed medium-term funding became available to enable a realistic medium-term plan for roads to be pursued.
These days, however, roads and transport generally are very much on the agenda. For the purposes of expenditure of EC Structural Funds, we have the Operational Programme on Peripherality, a major integrated transport investment programme covering road, rail, sea and air transport which was agreed by the EC Commission for the period to the end of 1993. The NRA will provide the national roads element of future programmes and, indeed, the setting up of the NRA on a statutory basis will greatly assist in ensuring that the strategic plans for national roads in these  programmes are carried through as effectively and efficiently as possible.
The importance of having an efficient national road network cannot be over-emphasised and we need to ensure that available funds are spent on these roads in the most effective manner possible. The need for a central, single-minded, independent and far-seeing body is, therefore, very evident and it is against this background that the concept of the NRA as the focal point for such development has evolved.
The task of the National Roads Authority will be a challenging one. The NRA's primary function will be, as section 17 says; “to secure the provision of a safe and efficient network of national roads”. It will have overall responsibility for planning and supervising the construction, improvement and maintenance of the network of national roads — which will include the access routes to the principal ports and airports. These national roads represent under 6 per cent of total road mileage, but account for about 37 per cent of total road traffic, two-thirds of it work-related. The long term development programme for these roads is estimated to cost £3.6 billion. In view of the very high level of investment required and, consequently, the need for a body directing the use of such funds to achieve optimum value for money, very detailed consideration was given to the type of organisation which should be set up. To this end, the views of a range of interests were listened to and examined.
The NRA is being given very substantial powers to accomplish its task of overseeing and co-ordinating the development of our national road network. The Bill assigns it the following specific functions: it will be responsible for the preparation of strategic medium-term plans for the development of the national roads; it will prepare or arrange for the preparation of road designs, maintenance programmes and schemes for the provision of traffic signs on national roads; it will secure the carrying out of construction, improvement and maintenance works on national roads, mainly  through local authorities but on its own initiative if it considers it appropriate; it will allocate and pay grants for works on national roads; the Authority will have power to issue directions to local authorities to carry out certain specified functions in relation to the construction, improvement and maintenance of national roads and will be able to carry out the function itself in the unlikely event that a local authority fails or refuses to comply with such a direction; while local authorities will normally be relied upon to prepare road designs and maintenance programmes and to enter into road works contracts, the NRA will have the power to carry out these functions itself where it decides that this would be more convenient, expeditious, effective or economical; the NRA will promote the case for EC assistance for roads. This will include the preparation of the national roads element of future operational programmes covering the roads and other transport sectors; and the NRA will promote the provision of private investment for national roads and for this purpose will have the power to borrow up to £500 million subject to the usual ministerial consents and to enter into toll franchise agreements with private interests.
While the Authority is being given very wide-ranging powers, it is not being given carte blanche to do as it pleases. It will be answerable to me as Minister for the Environment. I will retain overall policy and legislative responsibility for roads. The NRA's medium-term plans will be subject to my approval and its borrowings will require my consent and that of the Minister for Finance. In addition, I will have general powers under section 41 to issue mandatory directions and advisory guidelines to the NRA.
While I will retain some quasi-judicial powers, such as the approval of compulsory purchase orders and motorway schemes, neither I nor my Department will have any involvement in the day to day management of the national road development programme. This work is being transferred in its entirety to the Authority. State grants for national roads  will be paid as a global amount by my Department to the authority, which will be completely responsible for the allocation of finance to individual projects.
Up to now the work of constructing, maintaining and improving the national road network rested with the local authorities. It is not the intention of the Bill that this situation should change but rather that it should be improved. My officials in drafting this Bill were at great pains to ensure that the resources, skills and vast experience of the local authorities in this area will continue to be availed of and that there will not be any overlap of functions or duplication of effort between the NRA and the local authorities. To this end the Bill provides that local authorities will continue to acquire land for national roads, prepare road designs and maintenance programmes and enter into road works contracts on behalf of the NRA unless it decides that it would be more convenient, expeditious, effective or economical to carry out the work itself.
In effect, the local authorities will continue to carry out most of the existing functions in relation to national roads — acting on behalf of the National Roads Authority and under its supervision. The main change is that the NRA will provide a new strategic focal point for local authorities and it will harness their expertise in a more coherent and co-ordinated way. The NRA will, in effect, work in partnership with the local authorities as my Department has done in the past and I see no reason this relationship will not continue to be a harmonious one.
The legislation seeks to preserve a balance by giving the NRA adequate powers to do its important job in the national interest, while ensuring that local authorities have a vital input into the road development process, particularly where it affects local interests. I will take a few minutes to outline the checks and balances which have been built into the Bill.
In section 18, the NRA is obliged to prepare a medium-term development plan for national roads at regular intervals. When preparing that plan it must  obtain the views of local authorities. Before submitting the draft plan to the Minister for approval, it must send copies to each local authority. The elected members can, as a reserved function, make objections or representations to the Minister and he must consider them before deciding whether or not to approve the plan.
As I have said already, the National Roads Authority will normally carry out its functions through local authorities. It will, however, in certain cases be able to carry out works itself under section 19 or to issue directions to local authorities under section 20. If the effect of a direction would be to oblige a local authority to materially contravene its development plan, the NRA will be obliged to undertake a public consultation process similar to that for a proposed material contravention of a local authority development plan before it can proceed any further. The Minister will also have a reserve power to “call in” certain classes of direction for approval by him.
A key area of potential disputes between the NRA and local authorities is on road alignments and with this in mind the Bill was amended to give the elected members of the local authority a right in section 22 to make their views known to the NRA where they have objections to a particular road alignment. Where agreement is not possible or where there is a continuing objection, the local authority could then make representations to the Minister. He would have the discretion to take action if he felt it appropriate, either by using his directive powers under the Bill or by intervening on an informal administrative basis.
When carrying out its road development functions, the NRA will be obliged under section 22 to consider the proper planning and development of the area in which the road is located, to consider any environmental effects and to have regard to the local development plan and any special amenity area or tree preservation order. As a reserve power, the Minister will, under section 41, be able to issue advisory guidelines or mandatory directions  to the NRA. While tolling powers in respect of national roads are being transferred to the NRA under Part V of the Bill, local authorities will still have an important input. The elected members will be consulted when a draft toll scheme authorising tolls on a particular road, is being prepared. If they are not happy with the outcome, they will be able to lodge a formal objection to the scheme when it has been submitted to the Minister and to have that objection considered at a public local inquiry. They will also have the right to be consulted on toll by-laws, which, among other things, set the level of tolls. I do not want to over-emphasise the potential for conflict between the NRA and local authorities. Like my Department before it, the NRA will foster a spirit of co-operation with the local authorities — they will work with, and not against them. The procedures in the Bill are designed to foster consultation and co-operation, but in the final analysis, the buck has to stop with the NRA as the body with the prime statutory responsibility for developing the national road network. While drafting the legislation setting up the National Roads Authority, it became apparent that existing roads legislation was in need of a major overhaul to make it more relevant to modern day requirements. It was decided that we should have one single measure dealing with roads legislation covering the various roads provisions set down in previous Acts as far as possible. This Bill covers a broad spectrum, updating elements of roads legislation as far back as the Summary Jurisdiction (Ireland) Act, 1851, right up to a comparatively more recently enacted legislation, like the Local Government (Roads and Motorways) Act, 1974. This Act, together with the Local Government (Toll Roads) Act, 1979, is being completely repealed by this Bill and reenacted in a strengthened form in Parts IV and V respectively — taking account of practical experience in the operation of these Acts. As I have said, provisions scattered throughout various Acts are being modernised and some entirely new  powers are being introduced. The following are some of the more significant proposed changes in the general roads law.
The classification of public roads is being simplified in section 100. Three classes are proposed: national, regional and local. They will replace all the existing classes such as trunk and link roads, main and county roads and so on. The category of local authority, which will be responsible for each class of public roads, is clearly defined in section 13. County councils and county borough corporations will be responsible for national and regional roads, while the counties, county boroughs, boroughs and urban district councils will be responsible for all local roads in their areas. This greatly simplifies the legal position but will invlove little or no change in existing de facto responsibility on the ground.
The power to declare roads to be public roads is being modernised in section 11. The powers to abandon public roads and extinguish public rights of way are being devolved to the elected members of local authorities in sections 12 and 73 respectively. This is in line with the ongoing policy of devolving responsibility to local authorities so that there is no need for detailed day to day Ministerial involvement.
The concept of a “protected road” is being introduced in Part IV. This is in addition to the re-enactment of the existing legislative provisions for motorways and busways. The protected road is intended as a “halfway house” between an ordinary public road (which usually has very limited access control or traffic restrictions), and a motorway (to which all access from adjoining land is prohibited and is also restricted to certain types of traffic. Local authorities will now be able, under section 54, to provide and/or operate service areas along motorways and protected roads, as will the NRA. Alternatively, they will be able to make agreements with private interests for their provision and/or operation.
The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Secondary Legislation of the European Communities has frequently recommended  that European Communities Regulations implementing EC directives should be transferred into an appropriate Act when the opportunity presented itself. In compliance with that recommendation, European Communities Regulations implementing an EC directive in relation to the environmental impact assessment of proposed road development-including motorways, busways and certain other types of road construction and improvement — are being replaced by sections 50 and 51 of this Bill.
Road authorities are being given power in section 68 to provide cycleways. Temporary dwellings on national roads, motorways etc. are being prohibited under section 69, as are unauthorised vehicles used for trading, and unauthorised signs and advertising hoardings on any public road under section 71. Local authorities and the Garda are been given appropriate powers to enforce these prohibitions. The restrictions on roadside trading will not apply to the seasonal sale of fruit and vegetables. Under section 70, local authorities will have improved powers to deal with dangerous trees and new powers to deal with dangerous structures along public roads.
Under sections 74 and 75, local authorities are being given new powers to control road races and strengthened powers relating to the temporary closure of public roads. Temporary closures will no longer need to be notified to my Department. The Bill codifies in section 67 the existing common law duty of care imposed on road users, whereby they must take reasonable care for their own safety and that of other road users, and avoid damage to their own or other people's property. A new power to control the use of rubbish skips is being introduced in section 72, allowing for a flexible approach by local authorities, who can decide how their use should be regulated depending on local circumstances. In the spirit of devolution, local by-laws dealing with skips will not need Ministerial confirmation.
Section 77 was introduced in the Dáil, giving the Minister power to make regulations requiring works to be carried out  in order to mitigate the effects of road traffic noise, following the construction of new roads or the improvement of existing ones. Powers relating to drainage of public roads and associated matters, such as the deposit of dung, grit etc. on public roads dating as far back as 1851 are being completely revamped in this Bill under sections 13 and 76. I do not intend to go through the 85 sections of the Bill in detail at this point, but rather to leave that to the debate on subsequent stages. I know I can expect the usual searching questions and high standard of debate for which this House is rightly respected.
This is extremely important legislation and because we have unique financial resources available for road development from the Structural Funds it behoves us to ensure that these moneys are spent in the most efficient and effective way so as to provide the best arterial road network possible. Arguments are often made, when debating comprehensive legislation like this, regarding expenditure priorities. Emphasis is often placed on the need to provide additional resources for our country road network. It is important to understand the need for ensuring that, as a small economy depending more on exports than any of our European competitors — we must export over 75 per cent of what we produce — our goods must be conveyed to sea and airports within certain time constraints. All competitive features relating to transport are crucial in determining the growth of the economy. Investment in that network has been recommended by the Culliton report, by Moriarty, by the Central Bank and by every economic review carried out in the last ten years. We are seeking to co-ordinate local authorities under the management of the NRA, to ensure that over the next four to five years we have not only the financial stimulus but also the organisational structure, the commitment and the determination to obtain the best possible results from that investment, to provide jobs and the infrastructure essential for future development.
I look forward to the Senators' contributions to the debate on this Bill, and  to Committee Stage where we will have the opportunity to tease out different points of view and, thus improve the Bill.
Mr. Cosgrave: I welcome the Minister to the House to debate this important Bill. This Bill will have wideranging effects; it has already had a chequered career. The delays in relation to this Bill have been similar to the delays in traffic common in this country.
The Fine Gael Party welcomes the introduction of this Bill and will support many of its provisions. Fine Gael will have to oppose parts of the Bill especially those relating to tolls for the use of roadways. Irish motorists, whether private drivers or operators of haulage businesses pay heavy cost in tax and insurance and for motor cars. The Irish motorist deserves better. Although recent improvements are welcome the State has been developing the network of roadways on a piecemeal basis: while part of the road is improved to speed up passing traffic a traffic jam is probably building up further down the same road.
I hope that the establishment of the National Roads Authority will improve roads for the motorist. The individual motorist who is taxed to the hilt deserves better roads. Haulage fleet operators and those who run delivery vans need better roads because for them time is money. Time is money also for any business person who must travel from one part of the country to another.
Fine Gael would have preferred one Department or Authority to have had responsibility for the development of transport. Instead the Minister for the Environment is responsible for roads, the Minister for Transport is responsible for CIE and other transport matters and the Minister for the Marine is responsible for the operation of the ports. If Departments are not in contact with each other  it is difficult to establish the best policy for the smooth passage of traffic throughout the country. Small roads suitable for rural areas cannot cope with juggernauts.
We should also consider the increase in carnage this year on our roads for which the roads authority and the Minister are only partly responsible. In my area a set of traffic lights which were old and malfunctioning were switched off by the local authority prior to their replacement within a month or two. The road in question carries lorries and juggernauts to Dún Laoghaire harbour. Parents in this area are concerned for their children and for elderly people who cross that road. People, not juggernauts, come off worse in accidents.
I ask the Minister to clarify how much consultation there will be between the Authority and his Department on one hand and with other boards and with the Ministers for Transport and the Marine on the other. One cannot look at the road networks without looking at the overall transport situation — the rural thoroughfares, the railways and even the ports. In certain areas the development of a good rail network has persuaded people to leave their cars at home. In other areas, unfortunately, commuters do not have this option and must use their cars.
I hope the Authority will be an independent organisation with powers and not just a talking shop. The Minister must not be able to hide behind the Authority when things go wrong and yet dictate policy totally. I ask the Minister to indicate his specific role in relation to the Authority and to confirm that the Authority will be independent. We have seen tremendous improvements since Telecom Éireann and An Post replaced the former Department of Posts and Telegraphs; An Post now deliver letters within one, or at most two days. These have been some very notable developments in the whole telecommunications industry. It is not before its time because in previous years it could take months or even years to have a phone connected.
We must recognise the very important role the staff and members of the local authorities play, in the maintenance of  our roads. I hope, in the light of recent discussions and announcements, that members of local authorities are not going to be ignored. I am sure Senator Finneran would agree with me in relation to this, given his long commitment to the local authority system of administration. It is important that the Minister does not interfere with the decisions of the Authority, and that the Authority is not hamstrung, whatever functions are transferred to it, given that the Minister will have the power to issue directions and guidelines to it. I ask the Minister to discuss this role vis-á-vis the Authority in his reply. The Authority must be independent, and must be able to get on with its business, part of which is the drawing up of a plan to develop the roads network in this country.
If the economy is to prosper we must have a network throughout the country linking north and south, east and west. It is good to see various improvements in our cities and towns. If and when this plan is brought forward I ask the Minister to implement it urgently within a definite time-scale. If we spend £3 billion to £4 billion over a number of years — the time-scale will probably run into the next century — upgrading our road network, we must have a clear programme and we must stick to it.
I am sure the Minister is aware of delays that have occurred in some of the half finished by-passes and roads around the country. If there has not been full consultation at the planning stage, building half a by-pass is only clogging up the road network further.
We must ensure that when plans are drawn up there is adequate consultation to ensure that work is not halted before the road is completed. An efficient road network can improve our economy by providing infrastructure, attracting overseas investment, and increasing employment, not to mention the vast number of jobs that will be created by availing of EC Structural Funds to build the road network.
With regard to the question of toll roads, because these roads are paid for with public and European money, we will  oppose this move, save in exceptional circumstances. This is a further unjust tax on the already heavily penalised motorist, a long way from the glory days of 1977 when there was no road tax, to paying a very substantial amount now.
Whether one drives a very small car, a taxi, a van or a lorry, one is heavily taxed. Insurance and running costs are also very high. Some 9 per cent of hauliers' costs are spent on transport. This is double the European average of 4.5 per cent of costs. We are over-taxed, the Government is bleeding the motorist dry and we will be opposing the imposition of further tolls tooth and nail. The two toll roads in operation at the moment are very successful but if further tolls are imposed on newly built roads, people who are already paying very heavy motoring costs will have to pay again to use these roads. We propose to amend that provision on Committee Stage because motoring costs in this country are prohibitively high.
Road openings cause traffic jams and delays and are another matter for concern. Other countries seem to have a better system for dealing with this matter. Whether it is the local authority, Bord Gáis, Bord Telecom or the ESB, they seem to be very good at opening part of a road and erecting barriers to ensure that people do not fall into the hole, but they are very slow to go back and fix the roads. We need a more co-ordinated approach to roadworks. Work could be done at the weekend in some circumstances. Work could also be done during the night if the repairs are not extensive.
If one weighs up the cost to the country of people who are delayed in traffic jams and are late for work and appointments it would come to a considerable amount. I hope the authority will have discussions with the various bodies to arrange for a more satisfactory way to deal with this matter.
I ask the Minister to tell us the time-scale  in relation to the preparation of a plan. More importantly, when does the Minister expect the NRA will be operating, where are the staff to come from and how will it be financed? I hope it is not going to be like the Ombudsman's Office which is doing a very good job and then suddenly is hard pressed to pay even the cleaning lady. While some of these bodies are great for ideas, they are going to be independent. Perhaps the Minister, when replying, would indicate the time scale involved in setting up this body.
Section 72 of the Bill deals with skips on public roads. While they are a part of life, they have been the cause of serious accidents. There should be minimum requirements in relation to lighting, ideally, these skips should be moved before dark unless they are properly illuminated. I am glad provision will be made for cyclists on all roads. I hope more cycle ways will be provided to ensure the safety of cyclists and that will become an integral part of our road network.
To sum up, I ask the Minister to indicate when he expects the Authority to come into operation and when a plan will be brought forward. I ask him to pay special attention to planned routes where maps have been drawn, particularly the Southern Cross route, as well as dealing quickly with improvements to junctions. There are many other items in the Bill which we will have an opportunity to examine on Committee Stage. I look forward to a fruitful debate because our future depends on getting our roads network right as quickly as possible. This applies as much to the individual out for a Sunday drive as the business interest or haulage contractor. It is important that the plan we propose is right, and that, ultimately, the country will benefit.
Mr. Finneran: I, too, welcome the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment to this House. By and large, I welcome the provisions of this Bill. In 1988 when I was chairman of the General Council of County Councils, I had my first discussions with and made my first submission regarding the  National Roads Authority to the then Minister for the Environment, Mr. Pádraig Flynn, now the EC Commissioner for Social Affairs. It is a pity the National Roads Authority was not in place in 1988 because that was an opportune time. We were about to put together an operational programme that would be funded by the European Community's Structural Funds Programme for 1989-93. I felt it was of vital importance that the money available for our national routes would be spent in a cohesive and planned fashion. While a lot of good work has been done since then, it would have been better had it started four years ago. We are still in time for the second round of Structural Funds and are involved in putting together programmes that will cover the period 1994 to the end of this century. It is important that the plan we present, and have implemented over that period and beyond, is of national benefit.
We must be conscious of our situation in a European context. First as we are the only State in Europe that does not have a road link with neighbouring countries, we have to plan our national roads network carefully and make sure that each national road leads to a specific point of exit from or entry to this country. Our national roads network must correlate with the location of our main ports and airports. As part of our national plan we must provide attractive locations for industrial development, otherwise we will have wasted the money from the second round of Structural Funds.
When this National Roads Authority is in place and has been given responsibility, it must deal with the country as a whole, and not with sectional interests on the east coast, south coast or elsewhere. It must be a truly national authority that will support the development of the regions. I am worried by initial reports that roads earmarked for major development over the next couple of years, seem to favour the north, south and east coasts with no major thrust into the midlands or the west. When the gas link was developed it crossed the centre of the country but ignored the west and northwest. The proposed national roads network  should not leave one area less disadvantaged than another. All the people of Ireland have the same constitutional rights, irrespective of their geographical location. As politicians we have a duty to ensure equality of opportunity.
The National Roads Authority should have a broad influence on Irish life. It must be representative and it should reflect public opinion and the intention of Government, at local and national level. We would be walking away from democracy of we were to establish a body with overall powers, with some powers transferred from local authorities, which, then implemented a policy independent of central or local government. There should be close liaison between the National Roads Authority and the local authorities. Members of representative bodies for Irish local authorities, namely the General Council of County Councils and the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland, should be included on the National Roads Authority. This would create balance, and allow local authorities to have their opinions represented.
To some extent local authorities have had to work in isolation over the years. Individual planning by county and roads engineers has determined the extent of development on roads in each county. This has often led to the complication, referred to by Senator Cosgrave, where development in one county is not matched in another, thereby creating traffic problems.
The National Roads Authority is responsible for the national road network. However, Senators and other elected representatives, should not consider that our interest in road development is at an end. Only 6 per cent of the roads of this country are categorised as national roads and they cater for approximately 30 per cent of traffic. Therefore, 94 per cent of Irish roads and 70 per cent of traffic is not directly involved in the national road network.
We have a responsibility to ensure that neither the regional road network nor the county road network is neglected in the priority list following the establishment  of the NRA. Major funding is required over the next number of years for these networks as there are vast areas of this country that are miles away from a national road. If funding for the future development of roads in this country is to be directed towards the national routes, then there is the danger that many regions will be denied road development. These regions would eventually be denuded of people and would become isolated and deserted, dependent on forestry or whatever activities are possible in such deserted regions.
It is important that the House acknowledges its responsibility towards the regional road network and the country road network. I will illustrate the possible effect on one country if attention is paid to the national network only. In Roscommon, there are two national roads, one at the south from Ballinasloe to Athlone and one which it is proposed to upgrade to a reasonable standard in the north, from Tarmonbarry to Ballaghaderreen. There are some secondary roads, but the rest are county roads or what are now classified as regional roads, although no money has been allocated for their improvement. The county is 70 or 80 miles long and there are 50 miles in the middle without a national road. If it is intended to develop national arterial routes only, then large stretches of countryside and many smaller towns and regions will be denied opportunity for development.
There is continuous debate throughout Europe and at European Commission level on regional development. However, there is little attempt to put this talk into action. One only has to consider developments over the last number of years. Executives of local authorities intend that no more rural council houses will be built and that people will migrate from the countryside to towns and villages. The intention of An Post is that local post offices will close down with people going to the nearest town to collect mail or pensions. Door to door deliveries will end in remote areas and post boxes will be placed on roadsides. The expected development is that  if people have to travel to collect mail or pension, they will eventually move to the centre of activity, thereby killing off rural villages. We must not continue this charade of pretending that everything decided at European level is being implemented on a national scale when the opposite is the case.
If rural Ireland is to survive and to develop its full potential, then we have to support aspects of infrastructure such as the post offices, Garda stations and local shops. We must create opportunities to develop these services rather than eliminate them; otherwise we kill off rural communities. Similarly, we kill them off if we concentrate on the NRA to the detriment of our regional and county roads, particularly the regional roads.
I wish to discuss county roads. In most counties the vast expanse of miles that require maintenance are county roads. As I heard a former EC Commissioner say, it is now an opportune time for the Government to take on board the suggestion that moneys from the Structural Funds should be made directly available to local authorities for county road maintenance, tar spraying and other improvements. I understand the figure mentioned by former Commissioner MacSharry was 10 per cent and if it was allocated over a period of three to five years, the entire county road network could be brought up to a standard where local authorities through their own revenue raising abilities would be in a position to maintain it from that point on. Local authorities cannot return to the stage they were at ten to 15 years ago. It is not long since the county road network was surfaced, dressed and tarred.
A fellow county man and a parishioner of mine former Roscommon TD Jack McQuillan suggested in 1953 that local authorities should be given an opportunity to take over existing cow tracks, car tracks and pedestrian tracks and turn them in to roads that people could travel in reasonable comfort. He was a man of foresight and he was politically courageous to suggest this at that time and to  see it through. His good work proved very beneficial in rural areas and most local authorities responded very well by taking over miles and miles of roads. In my county there are approximately 2,400 miles of county roads. Other counties might not have as many miles that require maintenance but that is because they do not have as many rural villages.
In recent times county roads have not been considered a top priority. Apart from reasonable allocations by former Minister, Mr. Flynn, up to this year, over the previous ten years the county roads network was allowed to deteriorate to the extent that the money now required to bring it back up to a good standard is hard to find given the present revenue-raising mechanisms, namely, rates on commercial buildings, service charges and in some cases block grants from the Department. It is now time for the Minister for the Environment and the Government to direct 10 per cent of EC Structural Funds towards the county road network and if that is done, it will throw a lifeline to rural communities and villages.
I wish to discuss another area and this is the long and good tradition of co-operation between local authorities in the construction of by-passes and bridges. It has worked very well in most cases but section 59 agreements can be abused — I have personal experience of this as a member of a local authority — by an avaricious county manager who, through a backdoor, wishes to stake a claim in the functional area of another local authority. This is a very serious matter because a section 59 agreement is a reserved function of local authority members. They do it in good faith on the advice of their executive and in conjunction with their colleagues across the county boundary so that duplication of administration and work will not take place.
I was party to a section 59 agreement where the Manager of Westmeath County Council bought land for road development purposes which contained a house. He subsequently placed a tenant in that house under a section of the 1986 Housing Act and against the wishes of  the local authority in his functional area; that was an abuse. The Minister should intervene in those situations and make sure that the rights of local authorities are protected. If necessary, certain regulations and sections of particular Acts that can be abused should be amended.
Up to now roads are constructed on the basis of an annual allocation to a local authority which, can be £0.5 million or £1 million. There is no indication of the exact situation for subsequent years and this is poor and bad planning. I hope that will not be the case with the National Roads Authority. I agree completely with Senator Cosgrave on this matter. It is offensive that a local authority will get sufficient funds to plan, develop and construct a road to a certain point but will have no funds to complete it. This appears to be a national disease affecting many local authorities. It appears that lack of commitment or lack of something along the way prevents the original intention being carried through. The National Roads Authority will now have overall responsibility and I hope that that bad element of road construction will be removed.
I also wish to mention a practice that has developed around the country in recent times and this is farmers feeding silage from a road onto their land. In some cases farmers are using the sides of the road as a loading bay or as a retention area for silage to be fed at intervals. This is an obnoxious practice and should be eliminated.
I understand that included in the Roads Bill are references to debris and so on but feeding silage is not mentioned. I ask the Minister to declare his intention to include it, if it is not already mentioned.
The Athlone bypass, in my area, is a massive development costing £34 million. I compliment the Minister, officials at the Department of the Environment, local authorities, construction companies and all involved in this project, which is a credit to them, a gateway to the west. However, it will only be effective and fully beneficial to the west if there are further developments. Although the  Department has been forthcoming in relation to the bypass, which has been completed except for some compensatory works, arterial routes must be developed. The national secondary road into Roscommon town must be developed, as well as the Tuam road into north Galway and South Mayo. It is important that life and industry do not stop west of Athlone. Otherwise, we will create the environment I mentioned earlier. There should be further developments in County Roscommon and in the neighbouring counties so that people in Ballyforan, Tuam, Ballygar, Roscommon or Castlerea will benefit. The same benefits would also apply to the people of Portlaoise if a bypass was built there.
The National Roads Authority has a responsibility above and beyond the national roads network. The network must faciliate the regions and not take people out of them. It should help to develop the regions because people will not stay where there is lack of economic activity. Indeed, there have been progressive developments in rural areas. However, I wonder would they have located in those areas if they had known that the road which was planned by the local authority would not be developed. While there should be a national road network with a national authority responsible for it, we must not forget our regional and county road networks. If we concentrate on economics and infrastructure we forget the people's needs.
As a Government our responsibility is to provide infrastructural development. However, it must also cater for an improvement in the standard of life. Unless we do this, we will not achieve what we were elected to do. We will not fulfil our obligation either if we provide people with a standard of living in an area in which they do not wish to live.
I believe in the development of our regions, the way to do this is to develop further infrastructure in these areas and support existing infrastructure. Otherwise we are not supporting the local population. We can patronise people from rural communities and we speak in  regional terms when we address assemblies in Europe, but we need to do something practical about the regions. The national road network is certainly a priority but our responsibility as Members of this House is to protect the regional areas which are not always on the west coast; indeed, they can be quite close to the capital and are often forgotten.
I welcome the Bill. The Minister has experience of the local county council and he understands the concerns which local authority members have in relation to the removal of certain responsibilities. I do not see it as a major problem, provided there is co-operation and liaison. It is good that we have a national body to plan a national network and I have no doubt that it is in the best interests of the country. It is the most effective way to use our European funds. However, we need co-operation and liaison between the National Roads Authority and the local authorities. The Minister must ensure that this takes place because he said in his speech that it is the intention of the National Roads Authority to liaise with the local authorities and to use their expertise in areas such as the purchase of land and design. I understand the Minister has responsibility for this and as a former local authority member I have no doubt that he will find common ground in the interest of the country.
I commend the Bill to the House and I am sure it will receive a thorough examination. We will have a further opportunity to speak on the various sections on Committee Stage. We are about four years behind schedule, but better late than never. This Bill must be passed so that the National Roads Authority can be established to use the Structural Funds over the next six or seven years. The Authority must ensure that our time and money are spent wisely in the interests of the people.
Mr. Quinn: I welcome the Minister to the House, I also welcome this Bill. It is an important Bill because it refers to the roads which, as Senator Finneran said,  account for only 6 per cent of our roads. They are the important roads because they are the economic backbone of the country. Without a modern European standard system of roads, we cannot compete effectively in Europe. It could be argued that, given our peripheral position on the outskirts of Europe and our remoteness from our markets, we should look for a more efficient road system than the European norm. When goods leave our roads they still have a time-consuming and costly journey before they reach Europe.
Roads are also crucial to our development because of the hurdles we face in regional development. It stands to reason that if it is a disadvantage for us to be on the periphery of Europe, it is a double disadvantage for any business which must operate on the periphery of the periphery. That is exactly what many of our companies must do. If we want to sustain jobs throughout the country, not just on the eastern seaboard but, Senator Finneran said, on the western seaboard also, we must develop our transport infrastructure as one of our top priorities, particularly when Europe is coming closer together. I welcome this Bill but it does not have the right sense of urgency. A large slice of European Structural Funds is being allocated to these roads and I hope that will also apply to the next round. Nevertheless we must ask if we are treating the problem urgently.
This Bill is an essential part of our roads development. It has proceeded through our Legislature, not at motorway speed, but at a pace more in line with a boreen full of potholes. In 1993 we are debating the Roads Bill, 1991, which has been in preparation for about 18 months. It is a highly complex Bill. It was processed in the other House and went through the mechanism of a special committee. Even so, the time would not persuade anybody that the Legislature considers roads a high priority.
Another doubt about our sense of urgency arises when we look at the plans for roads in the years ahead. There are plans stretching into the next century. Long-term planning is certainly fine, but  many of the plans should be implemented soon.
Our roads system is crucial to our ability to compete in the European market. This means competing now, next year and the year after, not in the early years of the 21st century. The manufacturing businesses, perhaps the people for whom this is most important, have not succeeded in getting across to the public how important roads are to our future prosperity.
It is not only manufacturers who benefit from good roads. It is not often realised that the price of goods in our shops, the kind of things people buy week in and week out, is considerably affected by the cost of getting them to the shelves. In this country, largely because of our roads system, the cost of distribution has been traditionally high compared to international standards. This has had a direct impact on the Irish cost of living. If we put a new urgency into our roads development, we must decide from where we will get the money. That is why I am concerned that there is very little emphasis in the Bill — and in Government policy in general — on attracting private sector investment for our roads system. We have the mechanisms for that and there are a few examples of private sector involvement. However, private sector involvement in road development has not taken off in Ireland, which is a lost opportunity.
In France a partnership approach between the State and the private sector can work well for the State. This is not privatisation, because in the end the ownership of the road or bridge reverts to the State. Rather, it is speeding up the road development process. The availability of private capital means more projects can be taken on and progress made in a much shorter period of time. This is an approval and we should copy especially as the EC does not care whether the matching funds come from the private or State sector. Even with full EC support, road funding makes considerable demands on the Exchequer. We should see what more could be done to attract private sector investment,  because clearly not enough is being done at the moment.
There are two matters which will arise on Committee Stage which are really points of general principle. The first is the provision about the Chairman of the National Roads Authority. The Bill specifically gives the Minister the power to appoint an executive chairman, in other words to amalgamate the functions of Chairman of the Board with Chief Executive of the organisation. However this is a mistake as in the business world the notion of combining these two rôles is now completely discredited, not just in these islands, but right around the world. Public companies in many other countries are now being forced by shareholders to separate the two roles. This is happening because it has now generally accepted each role needs a different perspective. The two rôles do not necessarily have exactly the same interests and the combining of them in one person is not in the interest of the shareholders.
I should stress that in talking about the undesirability of an executive chairman I do not intend to comment on the recent appointment in Aer Lingus. I am concerned about the principle and that we are setting out to incorporate this bad practice into legislation. We should do the opposite, go through legislation and take out the power to appoint an executive chairman. We should not seek to perpetuate, or extend the power, as is being done in this Bill.
I have had experience of both rôles. I am the Chief Executive of a private sector company and I was Chairman of An Post for many years. As a result of that experience I strongly believe in the separation of the two rôles. There is a Chairman's job and a Chief Executive's job and organisation suffers if those two jobs are combined. Will the Minister have second thoughts in regard to this power and give consideration to bringing in an amendment at a later stage to overcome the problem?
My final point also raises an issue of general principle, the question of how quickly State boards publish their annual reports. The Bill gives the Minister the  power to require the National Roads Authority to report each year at a date to be set by him, but it does not set the date. That should be laid down in legislation and it should be no later than three months after the end of the year. Many of our State companies report to their share holders, the public, so tardily that it is nothing short of a scandal.
Companies on the Stock Exchange must report within a very short, set time. There is no reason for State bodies not being bound by the same rules as companies in the Stock Exchange. At present, the reports coming out are more like historical documents than documents to which we should be looking for information. The world and the company will have moved on by the time we see those reports. When we are regulating this, we should also put a stop to the practice where by the annual reports have to be vetted by the relevant Government Department. This unnecessary vetting take months, the State body is reporting to us, its shareholders not to the Government Department.
What we need from the NRA and from all State bodies is fast reporting to the public arena. Speed in reporting is an important aspect of public accountability and we have paid too little attention to this in the past. I hope this Bill can be amended to set a precedent in this area which would mark the beginning of a new approach to State body accountability.
Ms Gallagher: I welcome the Minister to the House. I wish to preface my contribution by saying that at last somebody is doing something about the road network. I am sure everybody has heard the jokes about the potholes in County Cavan. One joke which springs to mind is that the ears seen sticking out of potholes there are not of a rabbit but of a donkey. It is no joke. People in County Cavan have difficulty selling their cars because the suspension has often been destroyed. Flat tyres are a certainty.
Ms Gallagher: The people of County Cavan — and I refer to them because the roads in that county are the worst in the country — suffer daily trying to navigate between the potholes which line the roads. Last week I saw a woman fall from a motor bike which hit a huge pothole. She suffered severe facial injuries and now has a steel plate on one side of her face, facial scars and damaged eyesight. She was told by doctors that she was lucky. I am not an engineer but it is obvious to anybody doomed to travel the roads of Cavan that repair work is not sufficient. The roads are subsiding on both sides and repaired potholes continually disintegrate. A considerable amount of investment and planning is required.
The Roads Bill, 1991, has two main purposes. First to establish a statutory National Roads Authority and secondly to revise the laws relating to public roads. The establishment of a National Roads Authority is long overdue. If we compare the standard of our roads to those in Europe we are the poor relation when it comes to concrete infrastructures. Senator Quinn referred to the long, straight, wide and level roads of France. When one sees the advantages other countries possess one realises what is required here. We suffer the natural disadvantage of being an island nation on the periphery of Europe when it comes to trade, tourism etc., but added to that we suffer from appalling infrastructural disadvatages. We need to focus our attention on infrastructure so as to achieve a standard equal to that of Europe. This will enable us to compete with our European counterparts in terms of trade, tourism and general services.
I welcome the proposed setting up of the NRA. This Authority will have responsibility for planning and supervising the construction, improvement and maintenance of our network of  national roads. However, it will only develop national roads which account for less than 6 per cent of the total road mileage. It will not help those people, to whom I have referred, who are doomed to travel along the secondary roads of County Cavan and County Monaghan. I hope it will work towards providing a network of high standard roads to link all major Irish towns and ports.
Members of this House know what I am talking about when I mention the sudden bump in the road when one crosses from one county to another on the same road. Each local authority works on stretches of road within its county boundaries; there is no co-operation between local authorities in these matters and no common standard to be attained. The NRA will be responsible for the preparation of strategic plans for the development of the national roads. It can, under this Bill, issue directions to local authorities to carry out specific functions. It will prepare or arrange for the preparation of road designs and maintenance programmes. The new authority is given, in this Bill, sufficient powers to ensure that a common standard of national roads is attained. This is an urgent requirement.
Last weekend I attended the Labour Party Conference in County Waterford and I was delighted to see the good condition of the roads in that county. I am aware also of the investment in motorways in County Dublin. It annoys me that the standard of roads where I live fall far behind. I ask the Minister to ensure fairness and to place greater emphasis on upgrading the roadways in the neglected northern part of this country.
Is the Minister, Deputy Smith, aware that the only primary route in County Cavan, the N3 ends up in a river at Annagh Bridge? The Minister recently visited Cavan town and I hope he did not arrive by helicopter. If he travelled by road I would like to know how many jolts and bumps he suffered while travelling on Cavan roads? It is only by travelling along those roads that one realises the seriousness of the problem. It is not good enough to pay lip-service to road problems  faced by the people of County Cavan and County Monaghan. It is not enough to say that more money has been allocated this year than in previous years. This may be the case but increased costs negate any increase in the amount. A major programme of investment in all categories of roads is required. I ask the Minister to treat this area as an infrastructural disaster zone. Cavan and Monaghan are situated along the Border. We are ashamed and angry to witness the high standard of roads in Northern Ireland in comparison with our own.
County Cavan and County Monaghan, because of their location, have no rail or sea link. These counties are forced to rely totally on roadways for transportation purposes. We have been scorned and ignored by previous Governments.
Every request to Government to address the appalling condition of these roads has been cast aside. When the Minister visited County Cavan he gave us little hope that our roads might ever be on a par with those in other counties. That amounts to blatant discrimination against the people who live in that area.
The purpose of the NRA is to create a high standard of national roads. If that is the case people should get their spades out and book into the Slieve Russell Hotel in County Cavan, because there is work to be done. If this Government is serious about creating a proper network of roads, time and money must be spent. I urge the Minister to acknowledge the atrocious condition of the roads in County Cavan and County Monaghan. I live in County Monaghan but having travelled along the roads in County Cavan I realise that the condition of the roads is no joke. County Cavan has the worst roads in Ireland. A considerable amount of investment is needed there and would be cost-effective. Temporary repairs do not work; the surfaces continue to be dotted with potholes. With proper investment those roads would not require major maintenance for up to ten years. A decent network would allow for competition with other counties in the areas of industry and tourism. How can business and visitors be attracted to an  area which is not accessible? I urge the Minister to examine the appalling situation in County Cavan as a matter of urgency and to tackle it with all speed. This county cannot afford to wait any longer.
The Bill is worthwhile. It will, I hope, achieve a network of decent roads throughout this country and facilitate competition with our European counterparts. I welcome the fact that local authorities will be involved in the process at all levels because being at ground level, they are aware of the priorities. The local authorities have the resources, the experience and the skills needed and the National Roads Authority must recognise their advantages in developing an overall network. I also welcome the fact that the new authority will focus on promoting our case for EC assistance. This will include the preparation of the elements of future operational programmes covering the roads and other transport sectors. I hope this will achieve results.
I am pleased to see a co-ordinated approach to our road infrastructure. This will allow experience and specialist skills in road design built up by one local authority to be shared with others. Until now, each local authority had been forced to operate in isolation. The Authority deals only with national roads. What happens the vast majority of roads not covered by the Authority? Can a co-ordinated approach not be developed to upgrade these routes? Why can local authorities not get European funding directly for our secondary and local roads? Why can local authorities not decide where that European money should go when they know better than anybody else what the priorities are? This is a serious issue. I am concerned that we are neglecting our biggest problem by not improving the local roads which the majority of people use. I resent the fact that while money is directed at national routes, counties Cavan and Monaghan automatically suffer because their roads are not categorised as such, although their needs are much greater. Money is being  pumped into ring roads and dual carriageways in the east but more of that money should be allocated to improve the appalling roads in County Cavan so that I will finally be able to move out of second gear when travelling those roads and be relieved of the burden of negotiating the potholes and bends on every road in that county.
Senator Gallagher made a very good speech. The content was excellent but she could have spoken more about Castleblaney, Ballybay, Carrickmacross and the national primary which runs to Ardee. It is a national primary road in name only. I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I assume every Senator will take the opportunity to discuss the roads in their constituencies because regardless of what part of Ireland one comes from, the road network leaves a lot to be desired.
Senator Quinn is fortunate to be living in Dublin. Where I come from, people  believe all the money for roads is spent in Dublin, that one never sees a pothole there, and the proposed Euro-routes will be on the east coast. That is the impression people have. They are right because most of our national resources is spent on the east coast. It is our duty to draw attention to that and to try to put it right.
I will be looking for a fair share of the Cohesion and Structural Funds for Cavan and Monaghan because these funds will be the last bonanza from the EC. Cavan and Monaghan will be looking for an injection of funds commensurate with their population. For example, if £1 billion is allocated to Ireland from the Cohesion Fund on a population basis we want £30 million but as we have been disadvantaged in the past, we would need double that sum; Cavan and Monaghan would require £60 million. It will be interesting to see how much they actually get. If this country receives £8 billion from the Structural Funds over the next four or five years, Cavan and Monaghan will be looking for £240 million as a base figure. Given the history of expenditure over the last ten, 15 or 20 years, they would expect that sum to be doubled to £460 million. These markers have to be laid down. Senator Gallagher and I will be keeping an eye on that. She will be closer to the Government for the next few years and I am sure she will be in a position to ensure that the figures I have given will be reached, and even exceeded. This must be done because it will be our last opportunity to bring about any sort of proper development.
The National Roads Authority is a positive development; it is better to look at national roads from a national than a local viewpoint. The county councils tend to look after their own areas. If the National Roads Authority were responsible for the allocation of funds, people would feel more confident of getting their fair share.
All over Ireland people believe that the constituency of the Minister for the Environment always receives money for housing, roads, sewerage services, water, etc. and it seems to be true. That is one  of the reasons politics and politicians become unpopular. It is a commonly held view that Ministers sometimes misuse their power. I am not saying they do; I am pointing out what is a commonly held view.
People expect fair play and an evenhanded approach but they do not believe this is happening. Public perception is what is important. I hope this new Authority will redress the balance and provide more transparency ensuring that money is spent on the basis of national planning rather than ministerial pleasure. Establishing the National Roads Authority is a good idea.
When the Minister visits Monaghan early in June I advise him to drive in second gear after Ardee. Perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy Hyland, will pass the message to him. If two lorries meet on the national primary road between Ardee and Carrickmacross they are compelled to stop as the uneven terrain of the narrow road could cause a collision. They must slow to a halt, then drive slowly past each other. That is not the case in Roscommon because I have driven through that county in fifth gear many times.
Mr. Cotter: Driving at the speed limit from Ardee to Carrickmacross means taking one's life in one's hands. I cannot drive at the speed limit on that stretch of road. It is a disgrace. During the Seanad election campaign I had the pleasure of travelling through Wexford, the constituency of the Minister of State, Deputy Browne. I wish he would drive through counties Monaghan or Cavan and see how the other half lives.
It is a disgrace that traffic on the N2 must stop on meeting vehicles travelling in the opposite direction. An employer who sends goods to Dublin or to another part of the country pays — in driver's salary and in fuel costs — for the time it takes the driver to stop the vehicle and start again. An old truck being driven in  low gear consumes a lot of fuel which can lead to significant costs. If that happens regularly when travelling from Donegal to Dublin the extra cost puts the employer and the industry at a disadvantage.
If the departmental officials and the Minister saw the national primary route between Ardee and Carrickmacross, they would consider it scandalous. The road between Castleblaney and Monaghan town is also too narrow and not suitable for drivers who wish to travel at a reasonable speed. That will have to be rectified with a decent national primary road.
County Monaghan sets an example in local development for the rest of the country. There is little multinational investment in Monaghan; most investment is from local sources. In the Dáil I suggested to the then Minister for Industry and Commerce that Monaghan should be a role model for the industrial development of the rest of Ireland. It is obvious that he did not pay attention to me. Throughout County Monaghan there are signs of modern industrial development. Travelling the county one is liable to see a shoe factory, a furniture factory, poultry production and mushroom farming. The farming community in Monaghan is the best in the country. While the rest of the country discusses unemployment, the community in Monaghan has developed these industries and received little thanks.
Industries depend on adequate roads; for example, mushrooms must get to the marketplace quickly. Due to the road conditions I have described mushrooms produced in County Monaghan do not get to the market as fast as they might. I believe the county is the largest mushroom supplier to the top end of the English market and the condition of roads has not helped them to reach that position. To maintain it we need assistance. In addition to the usual commercial difficulties, like the value of the punt, road conditions etc., inhibit the development and competitiveness of industry in Monaghan.
 A good national primary route in Monaghan would benefit everyone in the county. People would save time travelling, they would have more leisure time and would be happier as a result. Industries which transport goods would save on fuel and time costs. Monaghan is entitled to the same treatment as other areas. Is the county's national primary route poorly developed because it ends at Aughnacloy and the rest of the road, before reaching Donegal is in Northern Ireland? Why was a tranche of additional Interreg funding not sought for the development of that road?
Although the Department officials and the Minister do not realise it, the road is comparable to a boreen. I understand that we will receive about £1 billion from the Cohesion Fund this year. That money can only be spent on what is called trans-European networks or national primary routes. Every boreen in Monaghan is part of that trans-European network. As lorries leave boreens in Monaghan and carry goods on our so-called national primary roads to travel across Europe, these boreens qualify under that programme. I want the Minister to take that into account.
The food and furniture industries in Monaghan demand that money is spent on roads. Although roads are below standard in every county, the regional and county roads in Cavan and Monaghan are hopelessly below standard. The County Monaghan engineer estimated a few years ago that it would cost £26 million to bring the county roads up to a decent standard. Monaghan County Council should receive £30 million for that purpose from the Cohesion Fund. It is the most important county in Ireland for utilising local skills and local funding, at little cost to Government, for industrial development. The county needs that funding.
Two years ago I conducted a survey and discovered that it cost the people of Monaghan — industrialists or private individuals — about £5 million for damage to vehicles and property. The problem is that many people cannot afford to repair  their vehicles. Cars are being driven around Monaghan that are not road-worthy because people cannot afford to repair damage for which they were not responsible.
Monaghan County Council should receive £30 million from the Cohesion Fund, most of which should be spent on the network of county roads which are so important to job creation and maintenance in the county. The satellite industries in Monaghan cannot afford to pay the high additional costs incurred by the damage caused to lorries travelling on bad roads. We used our initiative to develop these industries but we are being penalised by high costs. For some reason we have not received the funding we deserve.
There should be an examination of the kind of loads which lorries transport down the boreens of Monaghan. Foodstuffs and poultry products are transported to a central location for processing and there is also the usual run-of-the-mill business of conventional farming.
We need help because our own resources are minimal, which is another Government problem. If Monaghan and Cavan County Councils had their own resources, the problem would not exist. Monaghan County Council are spending about £900,000 on roads this year out of their own resources which is all they can afford. We do not have any more money and we have a huge problem which we cannot tackle.
It is a disgrace that when the Minister announced the block grant for roads in Monaghan, he added the Interreg funding to make the figures look good. That funding is supposed to be additional, it is intended for Border areas. The Minister added it to the block grant so that his colleagues in Monaghan could announce that the figures look good. However, without the £350,000 Interreg funding, the figures are bad.
It is a misuse of power to include those funds with the conventional Exchequer funding for roads in County Monaghan. It is an attempt to fool the people and to pretent that the Exchequer is doing its duty and being fair when it is not. Next  year the Minister should announce the Interreg funding on a different day to avoid confusing people. When the Government announces funding for national primary roads it should be divided into Exchequer and EC funding to enable people to see how much money is coming from the Exchequer and the EC.
The Minister would like to give the impression that he contributed £3.5 million towards the national primary road, which is not the case. There should be transparency and honesty about these matters. I am very annoyed about this matter.
Mr. Cotter: We have many problems. We also have a difficulty with regional roads. The road from Dundalk to Longford is of very poor quality, on some of it one spends more time in the air than on the road. Are the Minister and his Department planning for the next century? We have finite world resources in conventional fuels such as oil and gas. At some time in the future they will disappear and before that they will get very scarce. We will then be faced with huge costs.
As Senator Gallagher said, there is no rail link to County Monaghan or County Donegal, people have to go to Sligo. It is time that we looked to the future, admitted that the decisions in the fifties were wrong and that the rail links should be developed while money is available. I will be asking the county councils in Louth, Monaghan, Cavan and the Northern authorities to assist us in getting a rail link from Dundalk, an existing terminal, up to Derry and across to Donegal. Interreg funding could also be used for that.
It is difficult to convince people that  we should engage in forward planning and look to the future from different aspects. Good, national primary routes should be a priority. I know that Senator McGowan will support me on that.
I would not like to be an industrialist in the north of Donegal. It is difficult enough to cope with a bad national primary road between Donegal and Dublin but if, in the next century, there are difficulties with fuel supplies and so on, how will somebody in Culdaff in the northern end of the peninsula deliver goods to Dublin if the cost is prohibitive? People talk about keeping the west alive but, without forward planning, it will suddenly come to a halt. That would mean that people would not be able to leave which might be a good thing.
There are many problems in County Monaghan with regard to tourism development. We have the lowest earnings from tourism, even though we have many natural resources such as approximately 300 lakes, although some of them are small. Many people are interested in the development of tourism and are working very hard at it. Occasionally, when talking to such people one wonders why they bother being involved in tourism.
An individual in Ballybay who is involved in the development of tourism and does promotional work in France, was in contact with tour operators there. They said they could not send buses to Ballybay because the roads are too narrow and that the bushes would remove the paint. A bus operator could not allow that to happen. How can that man develop his tourism earnings and those of the town and the area?
There is great potential for tourism in Monaghan. The waterways in that county are very good. There is a fantastic development at Lough Muckno which has tremendous earning potential, but we need help in regard to roads. Individuals in the Truagh region are proposing to develop the Bragan mountains to provide an amenity for outdoor activities. However, tourists will have to travel by road, because we do not have an airport.  When some tourists come here via Dublin Airport, they are surprised at the poor quality of the roads, as national classed, particularly when they travel on the national primary route from Ardee to Carrickmacross.
The Government is holding up the development of Monaghan. It will not allow the county councils to raise their own resources or disburse funds to them either. It is holding up the development of the best county in Ireland and we will not stand for it any longer. I know I will be supported by many Members on this matter. I welcome the Bill and the opportunity to discuss it. I hope we will have more debates like this in the future and that we will give Senator Gallagher the chance to get out of second gear soon.
Mr. McGowan: I, too, welcome the opportunity to comment on the new Roads Bill. Members involved in local authorities appreciate this because we have sought a review of the structures managing finance and design and the road network for many years.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, to the House and I congratulate him on having achieved tremendous success in regard to the new dual carriageway to Wexford. I hope this Bill will enable similar road networks to be built all over the country.
Senator Cotter's interest in Donegal is welcome and I am sure he is sincere in saying he wants a railway there. However, why did they not do something about it when his Government was in power? Fianna Fáil has a good representation in Donegal and we have continually fought the case for a rail link. While there is still room for improvement, we have reasonably good roads. The Sligo-Donegal road through to Ballyshannon is evidence of this.
I welcome the establishment of the National Roads Authority because there was always a difficulty in relation to the structures in the previous system. When the Department of the Environment makes its annual allocation, its engineers compromise with their counterparts in local authorities in regard to planning,  but the elected local representatives are not involved. This is not the proper way to do business because the elected representatives get the blame if anything goes wrong. I have been an elected member of Donegal County Council for many years, and we did not have a proper input to planning. We could propose what we liked, but when our engineers met those from the Department many of our decisions were not accepted. None of us knew when the meetings took place. Any new Bill will be an improvement on that.
Donegal has 4,000 miles of regional and county roads, but only 60 miles of national primary roads. On numerous occasions over the last ten to 15 years, when we sought to upgrade a particular road, the county engineer and those from the Department of the Environment stopped us and we never knew why. For the last 20 years traffic to the Inishowen peninsula has not gone through Derry, as it did in previous years, but proceeds via St. Johnstown into Bridgend and Buncrana. These are second and third class roads and are carrying heavy juggernaut traffic. There is a meat factory in Carrigans in Donegal served by narrow third grade roads. I cannot understand why the engineers from the Department believe that the traffic from Strabane could be carried by these dangerous roads. I am enthusiastic about this new Roads Bill and Members should talk about the situation in their own counties. The country should have a decent road network.
Not long ago, I travelled by car from England to Rotterdam, to Belgium and into Germany. There were at least 100 miles of straight autobahn passing through two borders with traffic lights at various intervals. Our road network should not consist of few straight roads but there is a happy medium and people should be able to travel in safety. Our structures must also be modernised because we will then get the best results from the money provided.
The introduction of this Bill is timely, in so far as the Structural Funds now available must consider roads serving  areas where there is potential for jobs. Killybegs is the fastest developing port in Ireland; it also has a fishmeal factory and industry developing on a large scale. Killybegs problem is that engineers from the Department of the Environment only recognise the national primary route between Donegal town and Mount-charles. The road between Mount-charles and Killybegs is not recognised as a national primary route and, therefore, money has not been spent on the section despite the route's importance to Killybegs. I have never understood the logic of such decisions. I hope the new Bill will bring about a new approach to roads structure, road management and alternative routes.
Donegal County Council recently decided it could make more progress by giving contracts for roadworks to private companies. There is an opportunity to examine this possibility on a national basis now. The resources of the Department and the National Roads Authority must be made available to local authorities. Together the National Roads Authority, the Department of the Environment and local authorities must be able to assess whether better results can be obtained by contracting out roadworks.
When one considers engineering structure, road design, the legal acquisition of land to widen roads and the seasonal nature of building roads, it is clear that there is huge waste on the part of local authorities. This is because of the stop-start nature of roadworks. In Donegal we have a machinery yard with plant, equipment and new lorries costing up to £35,000 each. Drivers are employed on a yearly basis even though trucks are only working for three months of the year. Such a situation cannot be efficient. I suggest careful study of how to achieve more efficiency. Overtime will not be required to establish that there is a better way of organising roadworks.
The Minister said there will be consultation between the National Roads Authority engineers and local authority members. I look forward to consultations every year. It is vital that the elected members of local authorities have an  input rather than be told how money is going to be spent. It is unacceptable for a Minister to say that he is going to spend £1 million on a road between Donegal town and Ballyshannon and that Donegal County Council cannot alter the plan. The National Roads Authority will be very welcome in Donegal.
Several current affairs programmes, Marian Finucane's show of 5 April and the “Late Late Show” have highlighted the bishops' case for developing the west. The bishops are making the case that it costs 40 per cent more to transport goods from the west. If you say something often enough and if you cry long enough and hard enough, you will convince people you are right. I can prove that regardless of the condition of our roads the disadvantages we suffer in the west in producing goods and creating jobs are not attributable to our roads. I have been briefed by a company in Letterkenny who employ 850 people producing yarn and selling it in Germany to a company producing the same commodity. The company is delivering quality goods on time at a competitive price and they are increasing the size of its factory in Donegal. During my briefing, the question of roads and transport was not mentioned once.
A business that is doing well and delivering goods by container to any part of Europe will not be put out of business because of transport costs. Transport costs are not a big factor in the price of goods because transport companies have a margin that is adequate to cover places as far apart as Wexford and Mayo.
The people in the west, including the bishops, should stop crying about disadvantages because they will cry themselves out of business. The bishops are using every current affairs programme and every available platform to cry in the hope that someone will provide a cheque to build super roads in the west. I hope that the roads in the west will be upgraded but to start on the understanding that business will not survive in the West until there is a vastly improved road network is a folly. If we continue to  believe that, and to preach it, we will never provide jobs for our young people in the west.
The west, including Donegal, has many advantages and those people who are already established in business will not leave. Of course we have our disappointments and businesses fail, but those who compete on the European market are not at a disadvantage because of the road structure in the West.
Mr. McGowan: I will sit down with Senator Cotter and prove that what I am saying is not just a theory. I will produce a film of people involved in industry in Donegal and I will take the Senator to Donegal to meet them. I will show him that those who believe these industrialists are at a disadvantage because of the state of the roads are wrong.
I welcome the opportunity provided in this Bill for the development of small roads, however they are classified. In County Donegal there are 4,000 miles of regional and county roads. Many politicians including those from Europe say they want to save the family farm. They talk about emigration and about people with six sons and daughters living on the side of the mountain on a lovely farm who tragically have to emigrate. However, they only use this type of farm situation to illustrate a point about something else.
People must be taught about the advantages of living in rural Ireland. I have seen Irish emigrants living in slums in New York who would give their right arm to come back honourably to the little homestead on the side of the mountain.  These are the people we must help. We must provide a decent road into every part of Ireland, especially in a county like Donegal which has major potential for tourism whether in Glencolmcille or Glengesh. We would like to upgrade Donegal's 4,000 miles of regional and county roads. I hope the new Authority will bring a new approach to road maintenance and that funding will be made available to upgrade the regional and county roads so that road upgrading work is not neglected.
One problem which concerns me is not covered in this Bill. Most counties have a number of housing scheme roads. A housing scheme road is nobody's responsibility at the present time. Once the local authority gives planning permission for a housing scheme, the developer moves in, does the minimum of work and moves out. Within a few years the road is in bad condition, and local authorities do not carry out maintenance on housing scheme roads. I ask the Minister to include a provision in the Bill for maintenance of housing scheme roads by local authorities. I have thought about how we could achieve this. I will shortly be proposing that FÁS, the Department of Social Welfare and the local authorities each contribute towards the maintenance of housing scheme roads. At the moment in some of our towns housing scheme roads are totally impassable. This matter has been neglected and I ask the Minister to make sure that there is some heading in the Bill under which even minimal maintenance can be carried out by local authorities.
Serious consultation with the NRA will be possible under the new system. I welcome the dual carriageway that will be built between Belfast and Dublin, and the major road development to the south east, whether it is by Wexford or by Naas, because it develops a part of the country which has major tourist potential. I want to see the road from Dublin to Longford, Mullingar, Sligo and up to Donegal and Derry brought up to the same standard. That proposition will be put to the National Road Authority. I want the European link roads coming into the  county to be matched by Irish roads. I do not want to see the roads which are classified as Euro-routes in the North not classified as such in the South, because the required standard has not been reached. I want Euro-routes to be built right across the country. We will have an opportunity to say to the National Roads Authority that the road development plan must be understood by those who are elected to the local authorities representing the people on the ground.
There has been discussion recently about maintenance responsibility and insurance liability with regard to footpaths. I was interested to hear recently that £150,000 has been provided for maintenance of footpaths in Dublin city while compensation paid out in respect of claims amounted to more than double that. I do not know who made the statement.
The people of Ireland demand higher standards of maintenance for national routes, secondary routes and footpaths. Yet, I was in Brussels not long ago and to my surprise the footpaths in the smallest village in Donegal are of a higher standard than the footpaths of the principal streets of Brussels. I do not wish to indicate that what we have is good enough, but people can demand a standard that for financial reasons is not attainable.
People in the west expect a fair deal and they will demand that from the National Roads Authority. We do not accept that a motorway should be built between Belfast and Dublin, a modern train service and an airport connection to Dundalk provided elsewhere while the west is neglected. There must be a balanced approach. I ask the Minister to ensure that all parts of Ireland, receive a fair share of road development funding. There should be no disadvantage to living in Dingle or Dungloe as far as roads are concerned; there must be a level playing pitch. We will demand that approach from the National Roads Authority.
The most important provision of this Bill is the opportunity for elected people to be involved at a senior negotiating level. That is an achievement because elected members were not allowed to  participate in or have any influence on where money was spent. I hope that situation will be altered. I welcome this Bill and I encourage the Minister to proceed with all haste because the country will benefit from this new Roads Bill.
Ms Honan: Like all the Members who have contributed I welcome the Bill and the establishment of a roads authority on a statutory basis. The roads that will be looked after by the National Roads Authority, however, account for only 6 per cent of our total road mileage. I know they account for about 35 per cent of total road traffic, and two-thirds of this is work-related, but the main concern of most Members seems to be the other 94 per cent of total road mileage.
Like all the other Senators who have spoken I am concerned about county roads. I know that substantial funding is available from Europe for national primary roads; yet, it has already been allocated by the time it comes down to county council level. Therefore, county councillors have no choice but to spend the funds on national primary roads, and the actual amount of money over which councillors have discretion is small.
In 1982 Laois County Council spent £1 million on county roads. Ten years later, in 1992, in order to keep at the same level, they would have needed to spend £2 million. The funds available to Laois County Council in 1992 for county roads were approximately £120,000. If I was the County Engineer I would have difficulty in deciding how to spend £120,000 on a job that requires £2 million. It is extraordinary that Laois County Council can even keep the roads in their present condition, even though that condition is far below the standards most people in the county want.
From a business and trade point of view and for people travelling throughout the country, it is important to have a high standard of national primary roads. We should have roads as good as any other country in Europe, but the vast majority of people living here bear the brunt of having bad county roads. In fairness to  Laois County Council, the roads in Laois are not the worst in the country. Having travelled throughout the country during the Seanad election campaign, I have to agree with Senators Gallagher and Cotter that there are other counties whose roads are far worse than those in Laois.
The one issue that is brought to our notice as public representatives is the condition of the roads throughout the country. We are talking about rural development, about keeping people on the land and in small villages and towns. There is general agreement in this House, and among public representatives, that it is vital to keep people in small rural areas, and if we want to achieve that we have to do something about the condition of our roads. People in rural Ireland are disadvantaged because they do not have motorways going through their areas. In my own county of Laois some school buses will not travel on certain roads because of their poor condition, and it is not fair that the children and the people who live in those areas should be disadvantaged. Farmers are also complaining that creamery lorries will not go down certain roads. If we want to keep people in rural areas — and I think that is vital — then we have to keep our roads in good condition to make it easy for people living there. Their roads should be as good as city roads.
There has been a move among certain county councillors, particularly those who are members of the General Council of County Councils, to have a percentage of road funds allocated to county roads, but this does not seem to have been possible. Regarding the first tranche of Structural Funds we received from the EC from 1989 to 1993, we did not make a submission that some of that money would be spent on county roads. We made a submission seeking funding for national primary roads; that is what we got the money for and that is what we have to spend it on. It is open to the Government, however, to seek to have a share of the funds given under the European Regional Development Fund allocated to non-primary and non-national roads. I would like to ask the Minister,  in applying for the second tranche of Structural Funds if we can make that application because we are talking about small amounts of money. Such funds would go a long way towards improving the standard of roads throughout the country and if we could get even a small amount of this funding it would make a huge difference.
Building and maintaining national primary roads is very expensive; it costs in the region of £1 million a mile. Smaller county roads would not cost anything like that, so a small percentage of the funding from Brussels, if allocated fairly throughout the country could make a huge improvement and, I would suggest to the Minister, might be one way of solving our road problems.
The IFA has made a submission for EC Structural Funds to be allocated for agriculture and rural development and that organisation made the same point when seeking this realloation of resources for expenditure on roads from the Regional Fund. The IFA is talking about maintaining life in rural Ireland, encouraging people to stay there and giving them the same advantages as people who live in cities and towns.
We tend to talk about major motorways going through Dublin and Cork, and it appears to people outside these areas that this is the only concern of public representatives. From the debate here today however, the Minister can be in no doubt that the majority of public representatives are concerned about the condition of roads in their own rural areas. I welcome the establishment of a National Roads Authority because many rural areas have national roads going through them. I also welcome, as Senator McGowan has done, the fact that there would be a consultation process between local representatives in the counties and the roads authority.
One other area in the Bill I would like to talk about is the system of tolls on national roads. Senator Cosgrave said he would fight it tooth and nail, and that his party did not accept this. If one is talking about co-financing certain bridges or roads with private enterprise, then our  party would be willing to accept tolls in such circumstances, if it was a way of providing funds for improving the roads structure even though I accept the argument Senator Cosgrave was making about the motorist being crippled with road tax, taxes on petrol and car tax.
The other areas I was going to talk about have been covered by other Senators and I would go along with most of what they have said. I welcome the Bill, as well as the opportunity to speak about it in the House.
Mr. Maloney: I welcome the Minister to this House. If matters had been left to ourselves, as it was a number of years ago, we would not have a National Roads Authority or have any need for it. However, the EC, and EC funding, has made the establishment of such an authority possible. I welcome the formation of the National Roads Authority and the Roads Bill, 1991. I congratulate those involved in preparing submissions in relation to the Bill, and especially those who worked on this matter during the summer recess. This Bill gives the necessary legislative back-up for the National Roads Authority to meet present-day needs.
Investment in a national roads network is important. While there has been developments in other areas, such as housing and telecommunications, it is only in the past few years that we have started to highlight the condition of the road network. On the question of road safety, for example, there is a need for good roads to prevent, if possible, the accidents and deaths that have taken place on the bad roads over the years.
Most Senators who speak on the Roads Bill refer to their own county. County Donegal is dependent on its road network as it does not have a railway system. There is only one small airport at Carrickfin near Gweedore and it is of no great benefit to the producers in the Gweedore industrial estate who depend on the road system to deliver their goods to the port of Larne. From the time they leave Gweedore until they arrive in Northern Ireland and go onto the Derry  roads, these producers have to travel on some of the worst roads in the country. It adds to their transport costs and makes them less competitive than other producers in the rest of the country where roads are better. Similarly, in Inishowen, McCarters, the company that established the firm, Fruit of the Loom, has to use a dreadful roads system for their vehicles before they get into Northern Ireland.
As a regular traveller on the roads from Donegal to Dublin, I am forced to accept that the roads in Donegal are terrible, while those in Northern Ireland are excellent. It is a delight to travel on them, to drive through Tyrone to Monaghan where the bad roads begin. They remain in bad condition through County Louth until one comes near to Dublin when they start to improve slightly.
Funding for the national roads in Donegal this year will be £4.5 million. I welcome the increase from £2.5 million in 1992 to £4.5 million for this year. However, of this figure, £1.5 million is being spent on one area, from Ballyshannon to Donegal town and while it is welcome it does not leave very much for the rest of the national route in the county. There are 4,000 miles of road in County Donegal and only 60 miles of it is primary route. This leaves very little money to upgrade the county and regional roads which are in a disgraceful condition. This makes it very difficult for the farming community who are depending on the roads to carry out their business. Machinery using the roads deteriorate very rapidly.
Areas like Inishowen, which have a great potential for tourism will never develop because the roads system makes it impossible. People will not visit it. In comparison with the autobahns in Germany, or the motorways in England, the roads in areas such as Donegal are extremely narrow and bad. It is impossible to drive a bus or coach on some of these roads.
I welcome the consideration given in the Bill with regard to the use of green areas and cycleways which are a norm in France or Germany. It is not only a  matter of constructing a road; these countries implement plans for cycleways, and they provide for the planting of trees and greenery to enhance the appearance of the roads.
Money must be spent on upgrading the roads between Dublin, where they are reasonably good, and Northern Ireland and also from Northern Ireland into Donegal. Donegal does not have a port, railway or airport system for getting goods out of the country. It depends on good roads and they are badly needed. I was interested in Senator McGowan's views on the Wexford roads and I am pleased to see that the Minister, Deputy Browne, looks after his area. Having driven on the roads of Mayo I can report that Padraig Flynn did the same when he was Minister. If there is a possibility of Donegal getting a Minister for the Environment it would be most welcome.
There is to be much greater planning in respect of the national road network and this is to be welcomed. When plans are being prepared it is good that the views of the local authorities will be considered. If the elected Members are unhappy with proposals at least they can make representations to the Minister. Furthermore, if agreement is not possible one can refer to the Minister and that is important.
Regarding restrictions on roadside trading, there is not much wrong with this trading especially in the summer, when fruit and vegetables are on sale. Regarding the powers to control the drainage of public roads and associated matters such as deposits of dung and grit, there are roads that are used in a disgraceful manner by some people who dump along the roadside. Any measures that will improve this situation should be taken.
Structural Funds should be used to integrate the road network with Northern Ireland where there are excellent roads.  Any improvement to the roads here would reduce costs to industry and the costs of transport. It would improve the way of life for people who live in areas like Donegal.
|Last Updated: 22/05/2011 10:21:44||Page of 19|