Wednesday, 4 April 2001
Seanad Eireann Debate
It is an appropriate time to debate this motion given that the Tánaiste recently said we have a First World economy and a Third World infrastructure. It would be very difficult for anyone to disagree with that statement. Much of our infrastructure is under severe strain because of economic development in recent years, which probably indicates a dearth of investment over many decades.
It would be fair to the say that the national development plan introduced by the Government is probably the most significant developmental proposal in the lifetime of the State. It involves an investment of more than £40 billion in 1999, excluding a further £6 billion which it is hoped to attract from the private sector. This will be expended over a period of seven years from 2000 to 2006. It is the largest investment plan ever drawn up by the State and unlike previous plans most of the public funding, about 90%, will be provided from domestic sources, mainly the Exchequer. Nevertheless, the contribution from the European Union will still be significant. There will be £3 billion from the Structural and Cohesion Funds and £1.7 billion under the CAP rural development plan. The national development plan has four basic strategic objectives: continuing sustainable national economic and employment growth, consolidating and improving Ireland's international competitiveness, fostering balanced regional development and promoting social inclusion.
It is interesting to note that more than half of the national development plan expenditure will be devoted to economic and social infrastructure. The focus will be on transport infrastructure, including road, rail and bus, environmental services, including water, sewerage and waste management, which we talked about earlier, together with housing and health infrastructure. From a national and regional perspective, this expenditure is the most important under the national development plan.
The deficiencies in our infrastructure, which have been exposed by the rapid economic development of recent years, are now threatening to become an impediment to further economic and social progress. This importance is reflected  in the fact that the annual average provision for infrastructure over the planned period represents an increase of 55% over the 1999 baseline figure. Almost 40% of the planned expenditure on infrastructure is earmarked for roads and public transport, reflecting investment needs in these areas. As far as national roads are concerned, the focus is on improving the main corridors. As regards public transport, there is special emphasis in the plan on the Dublin region because of the major transport bottlenecks in the capital, which are an obstacle to national economic progress. This is not to the exclusion of the need for improved provincial bus networks and the enhancement of public transport services in other centres.
In the area of environmental services, substantial investment in water, sewerage and waste management facilities is planned to comply with EU regulatory requirements and to meet the needs of a buoyant economy and rising population.
For the first time, there is provision for social infrastructure, and housing is the biggest individual expenditure item. A key housing priority is to increase social housing output in accordance with the increased demands in the community.
On health infrastructure, the priorities are substantial improvements in the physical infrastructure and the equipping of acute hospitals, facilities for the intellectually and physically disabled, facilities and services for older persons, mental health services and services for children requiring care and protection. It will also provide for much needed investment in the area of information technology and health research.
There are significant investments across a wide range of services. Anybody who travels to the UK or Europe will see that we have much catching up to do to provide an infrastructure commensurate with the needs of the economy today. Bearing in mind economic growth, per capita income increases and other economic indicators which put us among world leaders, infrastructure needs to catch up. The challenges are ones that should have been addressed much earlier. The cost to the economy as a whole and the transport sector in particular of having a deficient road network is very significant. As I stated here before, almost all the expenditure, with the exception of labour, in the transport sector is imported. From a balance of payments point of view it is highly desirable, if not essential, that we make the necessary investment. We also need to accelerate the developments taking place. To fully implement the plan and realise the benefits of it requires an emphasis on smoothing the planning regulations and the consultation process.
In my area there will be a new motorway from Waterford to Dublin. We are led to believe that this will not dilute the emphasis on the eastern corridor where there is substantial development in housing, with people commuting to the capital on a daily basis. It is important that the public transport structure and the road network facili tate the smooth movement of people and goods. There is a significant payback from improvements in our road sector and introducing more motorways with savings in time, fuel costs, and wear and tear on vehicles. It is almost unbelievable that in 2001, having seen rapid economic growth, we have so little motorway here.
It is a reflection of poor vision that developments have taken place which, within three or four years, will be redundant. I am talking here about the Moone bypass and there are other examples where road improvements are taking place but the increase in traffic and the growth in population are rapidly overtaking those developments. It shows the short-term nature of some of the development. I hope that the Government and the various agencies responsible will ensure that developments will give us value for money and will be planned so that they will be sustainable into the future. Any plan for road infrastructure should be looking to the year 2100 and all development in the interim should be phased in to ensure that at that stage we have a fully developed road network that will be required then.
There has been significant investment to date on the plan, particularly in public transport. There are serious deficiencies in our public transport. As an aside, when I consider industrial relations in the public service, particularly in State companies like Aer Lingus and CIE, I despair as to the ability of these companies to deliver on the required transportation system.
However, progress has been made in recent years. Bus Átha Cliath purchased 150 buses in 1999 and 225 in 2000, and 56 new buses are planned for this year. That is a significant increase. Amazingly, no new carriages were bought for the DART since its inception in 1984 until recently when 12 new carriages were purchased. Of all the initiatives taken in the public transport sector, the DART is one area that shows good planning and pays dividends. It works extremely well and the Minister is very anxious to ensure that it is extended to complement the Luas and the underground system.
If we were planning Dublin transport from a blank sheet, we would not dream of doing so without a fully integrated underground rail system. That is not as easy as if we were starting from scratch but it is something which should be pursued with great vigour and enthusiasm. The new investment in the DART service will increase its capacity by almost 50% by the end of 2002, which is significant. Total expenditure on suburban rail development has amounted to 28 billion.
As regards bus services outside Dublin, 86 new buses were bought in 2000 and 36 in 2001. Mainline rail has seen 200 miles of new rail laid and total expenditure in that area amounted to £235 million in 2000. While there have been improvements in the rail lines between Tralee, Sligo, Cork and Dublin, there is a need – I am sure the Mini ster of State, Deputy Jacob, will concur fully – to improve the Dublin to Wexford line. It is an important suburban commuter link to the capital city and there are parts of it where trains must slow to 30 to 40 miles an hour because of the condition of the rails. There is a need for improvement in this area. There are other areas, which I am sure will be mentioned by other speakers, such as waste management and water and sewerage schemes where we must meet EU requirements and the demands of growing urban population centres.
Overall, the national development plan is well conceived. It is essential that it is well implemented so that its fruits will be evident within as short a space of time as possible and it is important that any bureaucracy impeding it is addressed quickly to ensure its quick and smooth implementation.
Mr. D. Kiely: I am glad to second the motion. We live in extremely exciting times. I remember in 1987 when there were cutbacks in every Department, from Health and Children to Social, Community and Family Affairs to Education and Science and so on. The remark was made in the media at the time, “Will the last person to leave the country please turn out the lights.” We all thought doomsday had come. The leadership of the Government has turned the economy around and we are now in a position to spend enormous amounts of money on infrastructure.
As my colleague, Senator Walsh, said, it is time for us to catch up with other European countries, especially where infrastructure is concerned. We live in the past in that regard and if we are to maintain the pace of development in the country, we will have to tackle infrastructure. I am delighted the plan and money for it exist and that all we need do is proceed to implement it. It is time this money was made available. It should be dispersed equally throughout the country so that all development does not occur in one area. I accept that infrastructure in larger centres of population must be developed to get people to and from work. Many avenues are open to us given the state of the economy, the growth in population and people trying to build new houses and provide their own homes. There is a great opportunity to expand water and sewerage schemes and treatment plants to move with the times. Infrastructure will play a vital role.
When we debated various European Union treaties, such as the Maastricht Treaty, one of the points made was the amount of money which would be made available and whether it would be £6 billion or £7 billion. In the case of the national development plan, we are speaking of £40 billion, which is an enormous amount of money. With that, there will be a huge injection of money from the private sector through the public private partnerships for new schemes of bridges, roads or  whatever. There is plenty of private money to be utilised to build up infrastructure.
One section of the plan involving the National Roads Authority concerns me slightly. The huge plans the authority has for sections of the country appear to fall short when it comes to rural areas where huge areas might not have a national primary route, although they might have a national secondary one. The authority does not appear to spend the same money on national secondary routes as it does on national primary routes. I have raised this with the National Roads Authority on numerous occasions and it is examining the matter. Secondary routes only receive a pittance compared to the millions spent on primary routes. I accept such spending is necessary because people need to get to those areas where business is or will be located. However, it is something which will have to be examined, especially where tourism counties are concerned.
I am delighted with the plan because it deals not only with roads and water and sewerage schemes but also with all modes of transport, especially rail transport. That presents a real challenge to people in Iarnród Éireann. One hears every day of trains being overcrowded and, in one sense, it is great to see that. I remember years ago people did not use public transport whereas now it is the way to travel. If it can be modernised, with more money spent on it to bring it up to proper standards, and additional train services provided, people will utilise trains more often and that will alleviate the huge volumes of traffic.
The road network cannot handle the volumes of traffic, even though huge advances have been made by the National Roads Authority with new bypasses and new stretches of road. If proper autobahns, as they are called in Europe, were built between the major cities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford, Wexford and Sligo, the infrastructure could be built off these major roadways. That must be the way for the future.
It is an exciting time and a system is in place to debate all the issues in the plan. It is important that, where one programme begins to falter and cannot utilise the moneys made available to it, the funding can be moved to another programme using the various organisations in place. It is an exciting time for the country.
One area with which the plan will have to deal is the increase in housing. If the proper infrastructure is put in place, it is an ideal opportunity to avoid industries investing in the country locating in the east. The argument has been made repeatedly that if the infrastructure were in place in rural areas, more industry would locate there. At least the money exists to develop that infrastructure and it should be put in place so that all people are treated equally.
I welcome the Minister of State whose Department is involved with the national development plan and for which these are exciting times. I look forward to implementation of the plan. I am hon oured to be on two of the committees involved, although I was disappointed Kerry did not achieve Objective One status under the plan. I welcome the Government announcement that there is an equal amount of money for both Departments and I look forward with excitement to huge development here over the next four or five years.
Mr. O'Dowd: This is, in many ways, a self-congratulatory motion. However, the reality is different from what is in the motion because, although progress is being made, in many areas it is neither adequate nor fast enough. I particularly want to address the question of transport, as have other speakers. This Government has been in power for nearly four years and it now takes much longer to get to the office. Commuting times have increased significantly. I left home today at 7.30 a.m. and drove to Dublin by the most direct route, arriving here at about 9.30 a.m. That means it took two hours to get here by road which is absolutely ridiculous. The queues of traffic were never worse. Despite all the investment, the job is not being done. People are unable to get to work on time, their working day is longer and their quality of life and quality time with their families is reduced. The country is literally being choked to death by traffic and not enough is being done.
If one is lucky enough to live near a railway line, particularly the northern line, the trains are chock-a-block. There is a rush to get on the 5.15 p.m. train at Pearse Station every evening, and that is the first station from which the train leaves. It is impossible to get a seat or even to move on these trains at times. The same is true in the mornings.
In order to address the issue we could lengthen the trains by putting on more carriages. However, current growth on the eastern seaboard is disproportionate to the carrying capacity of the trains. In the foreseeable future, with all the work on the Dundalk-Dublin line, the increase in its capacity will be 2,500 people. Towns like Balbriggan, Drogheda and Dundalk are growing out of all proportion and the situation can only get significantly worse over the next five years. Where the money was spent by Iarnród Éireann to raise and improve bridges on the route no thought was given to ways of increasing by something like 40% the capacity of the trains. The bridges were not raised sufficiently to allow the passage of double-decker trains similar to those in use on the Continent. We cannot have them on the northern line because the powers that be did not give adequate thought to the problem with the result that people will have to travel by road. However, the roads cannot take the traffic. There is a vicious circle, and the plan is totally inadequate in this regard.
There was reference to investment in health and hospitals, but queues for services were never longer. Waiting times for significant key oper ations, cardiac operations, orthopaedic operations, ENT operations and so on, have increased significantly. Money is being spent but not quickly enough. The Government, which has been in office for almost four years, has neglected to fully and adequately address the serious shortages that have become evident in the health services since it took office.
No matter how we talk about our national development plan, the quality of life is worse today than it was four years ago. I was interested to read the comments of a junior Minister in the paper yesterday to the effect that the labour shortage in economy nationally means we will have to take in about 45,000 people per annum, new immigrants or returned emigrants. There are serious structural problems in our economy if we are not able to provide a labour force here. That our economy is growing is welcome. There is a shortage of labour in the general service industries, in shops, hairdressers, hotels and so on, but there are people living here who are capable of working and cannot take up those jobs. How will we deal with an extra 45,000 per annum? That will have a significant knock-on effect on our structures.
The development of Dublin and the east coast is happening at an extremely fast pace which is disproportionate to development in the rest of the country. Under the national development plan, the Government is failing to provide adequate investment opportunities in other parts of the country. It is an utterly ridiculous policy to put more and more companies into Dublin when there are bottlenecks in the creation of adequate transport systems and a total lack of proper and adequate housing to meet people's needs. Instead of the mad rush into Dublin every morning to work, there should be an equal and opposite rush of people out of the city into the provinces, to places like Counties Louth, Meath, Kildare and Wicklow to work. Government policy should discriminate in favour of the provinces and not in favour of the city. I am not in favour of jobs going everywhere in the country, but we should have a constructive, dynamic, progressive and aggressive policy in all Departments of Government to make sure that jobs are created in the provinces where there is greater capacity. The working day would then be considerably reduced and the quality of life would be very much better.
I look forward to hearing the Minister. I regret that I did not hear earlier contributions and that I am, therefore, at a slight disadvantage in regard to point scoring. The national development plan is the key to our future. The industrial revolution in Britain happened during the 19th century. We are having our industrial revolution now. Our country is changing day by day, year by year. There are extreme and very important changes taking place and we are on top of them. That is why this motion should be rejected by this House.
Mr. Chambers: I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, who has important responsibilities  in the area of energy needs and development, and the resources that will play an important part in the economic development of the State. I compliment him on dealing with the natural gas finds off the north Mayo coast and the national grid service for the State, and on the progress that has taken place there.
I welcome the motion on the basis that the national development plan is the Government's blueprint. It sets out a strategy of investment for this country from 2000 to 2006 and is a very important aspect of our development. It recognises the great success of our economy, the developments and the resources which have been put together particularly by young working people, and it recognises how the whole momentum within the country has changed. I live on the western seaboard and it is most interesting to see the huge movement of people at 7.30 a.m. in rural Ireland, whether they are working in Westport, Castlebar or elsewhere. The changes occurring along the western seaboard are extremely noticeable. Massive changes have taken place in villages in Roscommon which is the Cathaoirleach's county. Towns have been totally enhanced through the improvement of new lighting systems and tarmacadam streetscapes. Rural areas have been undergoing very positive changes.
As a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Sustainable Development, I attended a meeting in Austria to discuss the Kyoto protocol and various aspects of energy and environmental control with regard to how we will develop and live in the future. An American who was there said “You can do nothing without money”, and it is as simple as that. This country cannot tackle important issues without the necessary finance which the national development plan is making available in a planned and organised manner. There is a great opportunity to achieve balanced development under the aegis of the national development plan. From the outset, the Government recognised the need for such development and instituted a policy to achieve it by setting up the Objective One area. The Government succeeded in putting this plan through while the Opposition parties had little say about their policies for directing resources to the specific needs of rural areas that had been left behind. While there was some debate about the issue, the Government had the guts to establish such a programme as part of the national development plan. We are now witnessing the benefits throughout the south, west, midlands and Border counties.
I appreciate some of Senator O'Dowd's comments on how to bring about balanced development. Recently, we had a meeting with IDA Ireland whose officials told us it is not easy to persuade industrialists to operate from certain towns. They like to be near high-tech areas and third level institutions. They also like to see how industrialists from other countries are operating before deciding to locate in a given area. That is  a big problem and even though there are incentives to direct industrialists to the BMW region, they may not be enough to effect that change. A greater concentration of effort is required in that area.
Today I attended a meeting of the Joint Committee on the Environment and Local Government, at which the National Roads Authority was represented. In fairness, investment in roads will total £4.8 billion for the period 2000-06. Some 20 major road projects are being completed this year, including bypasses and motorways. A further 21 projects will commence this year with a total of £650 million being spent on investment in national roadworks. At today's committee meeting we were assured that the works are on target for completion and we were informed that a number of outside contractors are co-operating with Irish contractors. In addition, up to 14 or 15 foreign contractors have expressed an interest in participating with Irish companies on some of the roadworks under public-private partnership agreements. This situation did not evolve overnight. It needed planned investment to encourage such companies that realise Ireland is a profitable place in which to work and invest.
The NRA is satisfied it will reach its targets, but also realises that some overruns will occur, particularly because of the recent inflation figures which affect the national development plan. The plan may have to be supported somewhat to maintain overall output and keep targets in line. At today's meeting, the NRA also assured members of the committee that there will be a role for smaller contractors in major schemes on the national roads network. Forthcoming 30, 40 and 50-mile road development projects will attract major companies, but smaller schemes will provide opportunities for Irish contractors to tender for, and participate in, jobs.
Such developments place a huge emphasis on local authorities whose funding has increased threefold in the past ten years. They have also put much pressure on personnel who are faced with the challenge of meeting existing demands. Some local authorities have been slow to achieve that, while others have been successful. They are beginning to feel the effects of such an adjustment and to recognise the need for change. There was an initial reluctance to accept the changes because for many years local authorities were caretakers of the basic infrastructure that had been there for so long and which lacked real investment. Investment is now forthcoming and local authorities have established contracts for water and sewerage developments. In addition, substantial funding has been made available for the development of secondary roads which is causing local authorities to participate in a more organised and efficient way. Changes are taking place and while the process is in its infancy, local government is playing a part in the process. There is a need to build upon those strengths.
 The national development plan represents a great opportunity while placing a firm responsibility on Ministers to fulfil its objectives. The Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Deputy Ó Cuív, has specific responsibility for rural development. He should take a focused look at the question of balanced development to target investment at disadvantaged areas with declining population trends to address their specific needs.
Great improvements have been made for people on the islands, including improved water and electricity supplies. IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland have changed their style to become focused on regional issues which present major challenges. We will monitor their commitment and the success that will be achieved in the not too distant future. We are living in a time of rapid change. The investment programme of the national development plan will rectify many of the imbalances, thus providing improved regional development in future.
Mr. Ryan: I am not used to debates in which the Minister sits shyly waiting for all of us to speak. Is it a sign of our importance or the lack of it? I am not quite sure. I have rarely seen such a sycophantic motion on the Order Paper.
Mr. Ryan: Government Senators are hopping up and down, the same as we are, with a long shopping list of matters they wish to have discussed in the House. All of them are legitimate concerns, whether they are local, national or international in nature. Government Senators get their two hours to discuss Private Members' business on a Wednesday night, yet they decide to bow collectively before the great god of Government and say, “Thank you very much for what you have done so far; whatever it was, it was wonderful.” Could they not have injected even a hint of a question or a change of priorities? Could they not have injected even a hint of the fact that now, a year or 18 months after publication of the national development plan, the priorities could be just a little different? The fact that we have learned something about the hopeless energy structure in the west, which, significantly, was not mentioned in the national development plan, could have been raised.
The chaotic attempt to develop a telecommunications infrastructure could also have been raised. It was not planned for, although a Bill to regulate it was on the Order Paper before, during and after publication of the national development plan. That Bill was eventually withdrawn, leaving many urban areas under the permanent threat that some new telecommunications provider will decide to exercise its right to dig up the roads yet again.
They might have done that but instead we have this motion which states: “Seanad Éireann wel comes the progress being made .”. If we had stood still and done nothing, that is the type of motion that would be acceptable to everybody but we did not stand still. From the very beginning my party, and for once I was in total unanimity with my party, said that was not a plan but a list of aspirations. There was no plan to implement it and because there was no plan to implement it, the actual plan is what they have been doing for the past 12 months. They have been planning to meet the aspirations in what was called the national development plan. That was actually a set of national development aspirations, few of which one could disagree with, although some of the priorities were distorted and some of the figures were plucked out of hats.
Everything on which money was being spent was classified as development. For instance, we are being told continuously that £1 billion is being spent on the rail infrastructure but between two-thirds and three-quarters of that amount is being spent on making it minimally safe. That is not development. If there is a big pothole in my road and somebody fills it in, I do not call that development. I call that repairs, and it is not anything that brings us forward. It gets us back from living in the dark ages. It would have been good to have a debate in which we got an up to date report on what is happening.
Unfortunately I had to attend two committees this afternoon so I did not hear the report from the National Roads Authority but I am not surprised to hear that it believes everything is going wonderfully because everything was going wonderfully on the Kildare bypass until they ran into a roadblock in Brussels. Everything was going wonderfully well on many other projects until they ran into various other obstacles. Let us put some facts on the record. In the first three quarters of 1999, according to the Central Bank's quarterly review published last week, there was a 12% decline in social housing constructions in the State. In other words, the number of social housing units being built decreased in 1999 in the middle of the biggest housing crisis this country has faced in 40 years.
The words in the motion “welcoming the progress being made” are so sycophantic. Everybody would have to accept that some progress was being made but in regard to housing we are going backwards and newspaper reports today suggest that a similar phenomenon is now occurring in the private housing market. Apparently our builders are not satisfied to accept a lower level of profitability than the excessive ones they were getting so they have moved off to something else. Perhaps they are building the roads the National Roads Authority wants to build.
We have a railway investment which is desperately trying to catch up before more people are killed. We have a housing position which seems to be going south terrifyingly fast for some reason I do not yet know. I remember hearing the current Minister for the Environment and Local  Government assure the nation on Raidió na Gaeltachta that all the secondary roads in County Kerry were in great shape as I bounced along from pothole to pothole on what is the main road from the Cork car ferry to Dingle. That is the main road and there are potholes every half mile along large stretches of that road untouched by human hand for 20 years. Who is codding the Minister and where is the progress?
This country has been afflicted by something that a friend of mine, another engineer, called an edifice complex. We no longer want to build anything any more unless it is huge. The National Roads Authority wants to build a huge road from Portlaoise to Fermoy whereas its priority, for the sake of the misfortunate people of Fermoy, Mitchelstown and Cashel, should be to build by-passes immediately and the bigger roads later. That is true of most of our main roads.
In my home town of Athy, some genius in the National Roads Authority decided to solve Kildare's traffic problem by diverting people via Athy. There are big signs in both Portlaoise and on the motorway advising people to go through Athy. To keep on the road to Cork one must go through Athy and heavy juggernauts turn on a corner which is hardly the width of the distance between myself and Senator O'Dowd. It is eight metres wide at most and these trucks have to swing around it. They call that progress. In the three year wait for permission to build the motorway through Kildare, nobody thought of planning it so that they could bypass Monasterevan. They are now starting to plan the Monasterevan by-pass and in the meantime we will have an official opening, attended by the Minister, and the bottleneck will move from Kildare to Monasterevan. That is not planning and it is not progress.
Mr. Mooney: It has just occurred to me that at least another half mile of roadway has been built since he got on his feet 15 minutes ago. We are  moving at that level but perhaps Senator Ryan does not see all the JCBs.
Mr. Mooney: Apart from the many other aberrations throughout his contribution, Senator Ryan managed to insult the entire membership of Kerry County Council by suggesting that the place was full of potholes. That is not actually a National Roads Authority function but in deference to poor Senator Ryan, he is not and never has been a member of a local authority—
Mr. Mooney: —so he would not really understand the intricacies and complexities of the way the money trickles down from the Department of the Environment and Local Government and the decisions that are taken.
Mr. Mooney: I did not say that. The money trickles down and it is a function for the local authorities to decide the priorities within their own counties. The problem of the potholes in Kerry goes back to a period which, like the Stalinist theory, has been airbrushed out of history. I am talking about from 1982 to 1987 when not one penny was spent on roads nationally, and even less money spent on roads locally to the point where the entire infrastructure of the country—
Mr. Mooney: —was put under such serious threat that when the Fianna Fáil led Government came to power in 1987 – this proves that I am not being totally partisan – it took it at least another five or six years to get the finances right so that we could start thinking about spending some of the money because we did not have it to spend. With the Labour-Fianna Fáil Coalition, some money started to be spent—
Mr. Mooney: It is dreadful that I have to call for the protection of the Chair but I am very grateful to him. It is very sad. I am trying to improve the road structure of this country in association with all my colleagues in Government and all I am getting is abuse. It is a terrible state of affairs. Senator Chambers outlined in great detail the amount of money that is being spent under the various headings.
I have a couple of gripes in relation to the actual expenditure on roads. Because he is a distinguished member of Westmeath County Council I asked my friend and colleague, the Leader of the House, about the N4 dual carriageway, which we were all delighted with, being reduced to a single lane past Mullingar by having cones put down on it. I understand a number of remedial works have to be carried out and then hopefully order will be restored on that wonderful section of road. I would suggest that the N4 from Dublin, certainly to my part of the country in Leitrim, is one of the best stretches of motorway. Nearly all of it has come about through the National Roads Authority and the injection of funds by central Government.
I have a quibble which allows me the opportunity in this debate once again to nail my colours to the mast. I do not understand why the National Roads Authority refuses to upgrade the N4 from Mullingar to Sligo to motorway status. This is in spite of the lobbying from the coalition that includes the full spectrum of political, commercial, social and economic interests from Mullingar, through Longford into Leitrim and beyond into Sligo. It has set its face against this. It is not included in the national development plan nor in  the road needs study. The NRA says its objection is based on traffic flow. I would suggest – and the Minister of State, Deputy Moffat, who is from the west will understand – that it is as much about the message that is sent out by central Government as it is about the actual expenditure.
I will readily admit to this House that there is a victim complex in certain parts of the west of Ireland. My wife, who comes from west Cork, said they never had a victim complex even though they still had nothing like the rest of us up in Leitrim. She seems to put it down to the fact that the old Cromwellian cry of “to hell or to Connacht” is deeply embedded in the psyche of the west and that we have had that sort of victimhood since the 17th century. We are getting out of it to a large extent mainly because real progress is being made. Roads, water and sewerage are being improved. The entire north Leitrim area is now the subject of expenditure of Government funds of up to £4 million which will develop rural parts of the county where there is widespread population dispersal. The same is happening in north and west Mayo where small water and sewerage schemes and local services are being provided under the national development plan.
I would suggest to this House and to Senator Ryan in particular – who I appreciate is living in the urban glory and luxury of Cork City – that these developments represent very real progress. People do appreciate what is being done. Of course we are not moving fast enough. There has been a suggestion, certainly in the media and Senator Ryan articulated this to some degree, that there has been a possible slow-down in the progress that has been made with the national development plan. I have a serious problem with this but Senator Chambers reassured me to some degree. He is a member of the relevant committee which was assured by the NRA that they were on target with their various projects. I would be very concerned by the obvious worldwide economic downturn. We are being affected by it. The Exchequer returns have indicated consumer spending is down and this will obviously have an effect on Government finances. We cannot ignore the economic reality of that. I hope that the commitments which have been entered into as part of the national development plan will be sacrosanct. Unless we can get a proper infrastructure in place, and that includes not only national primary roads but water and sewerage services, we will have a real difficulty in attracting industry to the areas that need it most.
In all of this discussion about investment and the national development plan we must not ignore the parallel need for development of our national secondary and local road system. The vast majority of people, apart from those who live along the east coast and down into Cork, live in smaller communities at regional and local level. They are using and perhaps need car transport more than might be needed in an urban environment. I do not wish to open up the debate about the lack of proper public transport in our  cities. That is a separate issue. People in country areas need car transport. It is not a luxury, it is a necessity. Some of the roads are still in an outrageous state, even some portions of the N5 with which the Minister, Deputy Moffat, will be familiar. I travelled only last week on the stretch that goes through Ballaghadereen and on towards Charlestown. In any other part of the country it would have been upgraded and widened before now. We have a valid argument in the west and in the midlands area. We need urgent development of our road infrastructure.
The interdepartmental committee, which Senator Ryan seems to have chosen to ignore or was not aware of, is in existence and monitoring what is going on. The Taoiseach heads it up, the Ministers for Finance and the Environment and Local Government are part of it and they are monitoring it on a daily basis. This gives a very firm and robust message to the general public that this Government is totally committed, not only to the aspiration of the national development plan but to ensuring it is implemented between now and 2006.
Mr. Gibbons: I was very interested in listening to the banter between Senators Mooney and Ryan. Senator Ryan is probably right when he talks about roads and the need for bypasses around so many towns. If we go along with the approach of Senator Ryan, which is basically the rainbow approach, then the problem is not solved but moved. We need proper infrastructure throughout the country, and a number of main routes. Senator Ryan mentioned that the National Roads Authority is directing traffic on the main Dublin-Cork route through Athy. That is a temporary arrangement of which Senator Ryan is aware but did not tell us. The plan at the end of the day is to have a proper motorway from Dublin to Cork, a very positive move.
There are two factors that I want to focus on in this debate. One is the location of the main roads. I welcome the Minister because I am sure this is a subject in which he has a very deep interest. The National Roads Authority published its suggestions a number of years ago with regard to the projected locations for the country's main routes. While the proposals are not sacrosanct they gave an indication of thinking at the time. The road from Dublin to Waterford is a major road because it is the main link to the south-east. The N11 through Wicklow and on to Wexford – unfortunately but probably very necessarily because of the topography – runs along the coast and consequently services only one side of the road. The servicing of as many towns and villages as possible is I believe an important element of the location of these roads.
That leads me to the current debate regarding the main road between Dublin and Waterford. In the past two weeks the National Roads Authority, which is in the consultation phase with regard to the upgrading of that road, has sug gested a very wide corridor in which the road may lie from Kilcullen down to Waterford. One of the difficulties is that the area west of that corridor is already to be serviced by the main road to Cork, the N6. It is very close to that road. To the east side of the corridor outlined the road is more likely to service an area that would otherwise not be serviced because, in geographical terms, the distance between the N11 and the N9 and N10 is quite large.
There are many small towns in that area which need to be serviced if they are to develop. This feeds into our commitment towards rural development. Towns such as Baltinglass, Tullow and Bunclody will not be serviced if we base our developments west of the corridor suggested by the National Roads Authority. It is important that we should service these towns because, on the other side of the corridor, towns such as Castlecomer, Athy etc. are situated much closer to the Cork road. We must ensure that roads service as many areas throughout the country as possible.
It is also important that the road to which I refer should service and run close to the town of Carlow. There was a great deal of debate in recent years regarding a proposed bypass of Carlow, which was shelved following the welcome publication of the national development plan. Debate is usually engendered when a route is selected. That is when the placards are written and the objections begin. Regardless of where we locate roads, people will object. However, we need to build those roads. The National Roads Authority is responsible for selecting routes and it must take into consideration many different factors when doing so.
The road from Kilcullen to Waterford must service two major centres of population, namely, Carlow and Kilkenny. Carlow is, by all accounts, the fastest growing urban area outside Dublin. Unfortunately, it serves Dublin as a satellite commuter town which is something I do not favour. I object strenuously to the fact that everything is centred in Dublin and, therefore, it is vital that the road should service Carlow. Kilkenny is an extremely important location from the point of view of the tourism industry and it must also be serviced so that tourists can travel to the locations they want to visit, quickly and easily. That is why these centres must be serviced. It can be done and I look forward to the National Roads Authority making a decision based on economic considerations rather than any other factors.
I am sure the Minister is aware that Thomastown in County Kilkenny has been in dire need of a bypass for many years. Huge volumes of traffic pass through this town but its streets are so narrow that if a truck is passing, all other vehicles must stop. That situation cannot be allowed to continue. I have heard of instances where trucks passing along the street in Thomastown ripped the rain covers off children's buggies that were being wheeled along the footpaths,  which are too narrow. The areas to which I refer must be properly serviced by our roads.
With regard to the rail network, I am pleased that the Arrow service has been extended to Monasterevin. However, it is time that Iarnród Éireann adopted a more progressive approach to planning. If the company considers the volume of commuter traffic using the road from Carlow to Dublin on a daily basis, it will realise that if it provided a service many people would have no need to use the road. However, there is no such service on offer. Opportunities exist in terms of developing rail services and putting in place the required rolling stock. If these are availed of, the system will operate properly.
Another issue of relevance to the south-east, which is not properly addressed in the national development plan, is the provision of air services. There is a regional airport in Waterford but it is not operating as well as had been anticipated. In my view, the main reason for this is that it is located in the wrong place. To locate an airport close to the sea, where it is regularly affected by fog, and on the far side of Waterford, away from the area it services, does not make sense. There is a need to develop a proper airport in this area, but I am not sure Waterford is the correct location. The matter should be investigated so that the correct location is identified because it is important that business people travelling to Ireland should be able to travel to their destination quickly, carry out their business, return to the airport and leave the country again.
The points I have raised about the south-east are worth bearing in mind. In my opinion the route chosen for the motorway or dual carriageway is particularly important in terms of servicing the minor and major towns in the area.
Mr. Cassidy: This is a timely motion. I thank the Minister for being present to take on board the views of Members. Deputy Dempsey was a successful member of his local authority and served as secretary of LAMA before being elected as a Deputy and, eventually, becoming Minister for the Environment and Local Government. We are proud of the wonderful work the Minister is doing on behalf of his Department.
The Minister represents a north Leinster constituency and I can inform him that everyone in counties Louth, Meath and Westmeath are looking forward to the investments that will be made in their areas. I intend to devote part of my contribution to the N52, provision for which is not made in the national development plan.
I look forward to the new dual line which will be put in place to Maynooth. This line will ensure that the 15% of people from Mullingar and north Westmeath who travel to work in Dublin each day will find it easier to do so.
As a person who used to drive up to 60,000 miles per year, I can state that the new roads being put in place represent a pleasant change from what went before. Credit for this must go to the National Roads Authority and the successive  Governments which made the necessary money available. Ireland has always been able to make maximum use of the allocations given to it by the EU following the Edinburgh and other agreements. Officials, particularly those from the Department of the Environment and Local Government, have done excellent work on behalf of Irish citizens in acquiring Leader and Cohesion Funds for road construction projects.
I look forward to the commencement of work on the motorway from Kilcock to Athlone in September 2002. As a representative for Westmeath, I am proud that Westmeath County Council has been charged with carrying out the engineering works on that motorway. North Westmeath is situated only 40 minutes from a number of ports, which will allow it to attract major outside investment. I call on IDA Ireland to make preparations and plans in that regard because the new road infrastructure will be in place in less than two and a half years.
Since I became a Member of the House 19 years ago this month, there has been little investment in the N52, the road that runs from Nenagh in north Tipperary through Offaly, Westmeath, Meath and into Louth. The N52 is a link between the port of Tarbert in County Limerick and Carlingford and it should have been included in the national development plan. I do not know why it was not included, but I ask the Minister, who has responsibility for seeking and disbursing Government funds, to seek a special allocation of moneys to be invested in putting in place a design team and a plan for the N52 and its future development. The N52 serves the part of our country known as the hidden Ireland, which must be allowed to develop its tourism potential. There is much culture and heritage in towns such as Kells, which people want to see. The second greatest tourist attraction is the Book of Kells. It is only natural that everyone would want to visit Kells.
I understand a motorway is proposed from Dublin to Cavan for which I pay tribute to the Minister. The N52 is the road people use when travelling from Limerick to County Louth. I would like £1.25 million allocated in the near future for the road from Mullingar to Castlepollard. There have been many accidents at a dangerous place known as Taghmon beside Crookedwood. Westmeath County Council has done minor short-term works on the road. This area does not make many requests to the Department of the Environment and Local Government. I ask the Minister and his officials to make the £1.25 million available in the near future.
One of the targets of the plan is to build half a million houses over the next ten years, that is one new house for every eight people living in the Twenty-six Counties. That is an ambitious target which will create employment and bring comfort to people in need of housing. In 1987 there were more than 900,000 people employed here, but that has now risen to 1.7 million. Some 79% of all businesses in the USA are in the services sector, but that sector accounts for only 59% of busi nesses in Ireland. We have a lot to make up. If the progress we made in the past ten or 12 years continues in the next ten or 12 years, most of the targets set out in the national development plan will be achieved.
I am glad a start has been made in investing in the rail infrastructure, which was badly in need of funding. I make a special plea for a major investment in the west. Senator Burke often asks me on the Order of Business about how money has been dispersed in the BMW region after 12 months in operation. I heard Senator Mooney's contribution about the road between Ballaghaderreen and Charlestown. I know it as the pilgrimage route because that is the way I go to Knock every year on my pilgrimage. Ballaghaderreen is the headquarters of the BMW region. I am sure investment can be made in this area at the earliest possible date.
We in Mullingar have undertaken the national rail museum project in the BMW area as part of our attempt to attract a national flagship project to the area. This project has the support of Bord Fáilte, CIE and other heritage associations. We are in the digital conference era. There is no reason that three or four smaller hotels in the midlands cannot become involved in digital conferencing which would allow people to stay in the area for three or four days having been brought there by rail. We all know about the success of the small rail museum in York in the UK. The national rail museum in Mullingar could be a great tourist attraction. I hope the BMW allocation under the national development plan will be given to the four counties of Laois, Offaly, Longford and Westmeath.
Mr. O'Toole: I welcome the motion. The national development plan is crucial to the future development of this country. It is a coincidence worth noting that as we are debating this issue today we learn for the first time of a significant underestimate of our economic growth and development. We should heed the figures published by the Department of Finance yesterday. We have watched economic growth approach two figures per annum in recent years. However, it is now back down to slightly more than half of that. A downturn in the figures for recent years is probably a good thing if we want to sustain economic growth.
The one reason above all others to underline the importance of the national development plan is that when the inevitable and inexorable downturn in the economy happens, we have in place the infrastructure to work our way out of it. It is not about getting from A to B more quickly, except in terms of helping trade and exports. In previous times when we suffered a downturn in the economy, we had to work with a poor infrastructure. Every year we gain now puts us in a stronger position. We must ensure that the fish lorry leaving Dingle to bring produce to the Paris market or a lorry leaving a factory in the mid lands is not held back by the bad road between Tralee and Dingle or the N52 between Dundalk and Limerick. We need to look at those roads. We need to look at the three areas of roads, rail and IT infrastructure.
It would be unthinkable for someone to live in Dingle and commute to Dublin on a daily basis. That would be beyond people's comprehension. It is like something Jules Verne would think about. My opposite number in the UK, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, lives in the beautiful city of York, to which the Leader alluded. He gets the train every morning at 6.35 a.m. and pulls into Euston Station one hour and 50 minutes later. He is ten minutes walk from his office. He is further away from his office than I would be if I lived in Dingle. We should recognise that is what can be done with a proper rail infrastructure.
We need huge investment in a rail service with a proper timetable. I ask the Minister to put in place the two objectives which do not require a huge amount of costing. The test of a rail system is that it is comfortable and provides a good service and that one does not have to look for a timetable. I should know when I walk to Heuston Station that the train to Galway will leave at four minutes past every hour and that it will not stop at 7 p.m. I should not have to worry when I go to Cork for a meeting that the last train to Dublin leaves at 7 p.m. and that I must put pressure on the road by driving. The same should apply if I want to go to a funeral removal or an after tea meeting in Cork. It should be easy for people to get on a train in Dublin after work, go to the Opera House in Cork and come back to Dublin that night. It should not be a big deal. We are not getting what we should out of our rail service. I deliberately picked the best line because that type of service could be delivered on it immediately.
The proposal in the national development plan to reopen the rail service to Navan in the Minister's constituency is crucially important in terms of taking away traffic congestion. Let us look at traffic congestion as part of inflation because that is what it is. It is a direct result of inflation because more cars are on the road which slows down traffic.
We also need to look at things like the Limerick to Sligo line. It would be a worthwhile investment. One of the problems with suggestions like these is that in a cold calculation on their viability they do not come up to scratch. I have argued this regularly with IBEC. Seeing how it is run on the Continent, there would be a demand if the service were better. If people knew they could get on a train at an appointed hour, get a meal in comfort and that it would leave and arrive on time, more would leave their cars at home. That is important.
The development of our airports also opens up many opportunities, especially international ones. Internally rail is the key. Obviously roads are important and much has been said about them.  However, someone in Cabinet needs to fly the flag for an improved rail service and should take a risk in saying that if a service is there, more people will use it. That means there must be an initial investment in them.
We must open out ISDN and broadband access to the Internet. Senator Cassidy's point about the use of digital technology in a town like Athlone or Mullingar will only be possible when we have a better operational system. Every school should have wireless access to the Internet, in other words, no wiring or cabling. Equipment is available cheaply to bring the laptop anywhere using a wireless connection. That is the way forward.
There is a final issue when looking at the downturn in the economy. Jobs were lost in the Minister's constituency in the clothing industry, for example. We both know that there will be no clothing industry here in ten years time. The trade will be in finished objects. People will not work for the kind of wages they would get to produce clothes. All traditional industries will go. Our future is in intellectual added value and that comes through research and development.
Too many companies investing here have no research and development programme. The best example I know is AppleMac which has an operation in Cork. Nobody in the factory can talk technically about what is being made there. I tried to get information last year when I had a problem with a Cork made laptop and could not get an answer to a technical question. I had to ring Minnesota.
The last month has seen a pull back in jobs in the information technology sector. No jobs have been lost in the research and development area. It is those who put the bits together who have lost jobs and we are over-exposed in that area. It is no one's fault because we had to create jobs. To consolidate our position, we need added value.
The other big element in employment is the call centres. In 15 years time, they will be in English speaking countries in Africa. They will be gone from here. That will affect many people. Both traditional and some new industries will be threatened by a downturn in the global markets.
The national development plan will help. We should up the ante and get it through quicker. There should be total support for the investment in it. On behalf of the trade union movement and the social partners, I say that the level of research and consultation, as it was being put together, added to its strength and the commitment to it.
Minister for the Environment and Local Government (Mr. Dempsey): I thank the Members who contributed and apologise to those I missed. This is an important motion giving us an opportunity to consider in a number of key areas the progress we are making on the implementation of the major infrastructural investment programmes in the national development plan.
 By this time, when anyone talks about the plan people's eyes glaze over and the public switches off because they have heard so much about the concept of such a plan in the last two or three years. It is easy to understand that reaction because when Ministers or politicians talk about it, we immediately get into figures like £40 billion or £6 billion for housing and other concepts like that. Facts and figures are guaranteed to switch people off any topic.
The national development plan is really about a simple concept, which Senator O'Toole identified, and that is improving the quality of life. When we use terms like providing roads, water, waste water services, waste management services, housing, hospital infrastructure and social inclusion we are talking about improving the quality of life for all our citizens. As Senators pointed out, to do that it is necessary to put in place an infrastructure, another word used constantly by Members. When we use that word, it conjures up in every mind, roads, water and sewerage but the national development plan is about much more.
We all have an obligation to get across the quality of life message, although it is not so easy when there is a consultation process or a bit of someone's land is being taken for a road or extra housing. However, overall we must keep in mind the concept that the intent of the national development plan over a six year period is to transform this country and put in place the necessary facilities to improve everybody's quality of life.
Earlier national development plans were necessarily focused on other issues such as the need to improve the national finances, as in the first one, or to combat high unemployment. With those two problems more or less overcome, improved infrastructure is the key issue for a better quality of life, national development and to maintain and improve our competitiveness which is only a means to an end. Improving competitiveness will enhance the quality of life.
The national development plan will enhance our environment which will also improve the quality of life. As Members on all sides pointed out, there is an urgent need to develop our infrastructure to meet our growing needs and prepare for the day, as Senator O'Toole stated, when matters will not be so good and we will need these in place. That is why the Government has accorded priority in the plan to the various programmes. More than half of the plan's 51 billion investment is dedicated to economic, social, cultural and environmental infrastructure. Those programmes cover roads, public transport, water, waste water, waste management, sustainable energy, social housing, health facilities and urban and village development.
This massively increased investment in infrastructure in the plan is about three times that between 1994 and 1999, but is not an end in itself.  It is designed to transform the country over the next seven years by making regions and cities more accessible for tourism, business and leisure and by providing greater mobility for those travelling by rail and road, including the young, the elderly and those with disabilities. To remove actual and potential sources of pollution to guarantee a clean, green environment now and in the future is something we should desire for ourselves, our children, the tourist, food and agri-food industries and for the good of the nation generally.
The size of this plan and the dramatic changes it will give rise to have escaped notice or become old hat. Ireland has about 300 km of dual carriageways and motorways, but the national development plan will add nearly 700 km by 2006. Implementation of the national roads programme will reduce journey times from Dublin to five other major cities by an aggregate time of three hours. That is not an end in itself, but is something that will improve quality of life, as well as adding to our competitiveness, as has been said.
Improvements to public transport will provide real and concrete benefits to service users. By 2003, light rail services will become a reality for the commuters of south-west Dublin, and the Luas system will then progressively extend to other areas and greatly increase the throughput of public transport users on roads and streets. Once more I stress that that will improve the quality of life of everybody in the greater Dublin area. Mainline rail commuter services are also set to increase their custom. By the later stages of the NDP period, planning for a Dublin metro service will be well advanced.
At present, major waste water discharges flow directly into the sea at Cork, Dundalk, Limerick, Drogheda and other coastal towns. The discharge from Dublin receives primary treatment only. Within one to three years all such discharges, representing 80% of the country's pollution load from waste water, will be treated to full EU standards before entering the marine environment, giving a boost to quality of life. All these benefits are real and tangible and will make Ireland a better connected and more accessible place for its people. The provisions of the NDP will greatly reduce environmental pressures and make the use of efficient and comfortable public transport in urban areas the norm rather than the exception. Transport in rural areas will also be provided under the plan.
I am responsible for the national road network, which is our principal mode of transport for economic and social purposes. The quality of the network has a huge bearing on the efficiency of our daily business and accordingly on our quality of life. For this reason, upgrading our road network is a key element in the improvement of our infrastructure. Our objective for national roads is nothing less than a transformation of the net work. The NDP envisages upgrading key inter-urban routes by addressing bottlenecks and capacity deficiencies, improving road infrastructure within and between regions and contributing towards the achievement of the Government's road safety strategy. The national spatial strategy, which is dedicated to balanced regional development, will also be supported by the NDP.
Investment in national roads this year will be £660 million, an increase of 154% on investment in 1997. Overall, the NDP provides for a total investment at 1999 prices of £4.4 billion in the national roads network. I am glad to report that the plan to complete upgrading of the Dublin-Border, Dublin-Galway, Dublin-Limerick, and Dublin-Cork routes to motorway or high quality dual carriageway standard by 2006 is on schedule. Similarly, the completion of the Dublin-Waterford route to motorway or high quality dual carriageway standard is on schedule for 2007, and progress is being maintained on major improvements on the other national primary routes.
In its recently published Review 2000 and Programme for 2001, the NRA identified 20 projects to be completed during 2001 and 23 more to start. This investment will deliver major quality of life benefits in terms of journey time savings, removal of through traffic from 60 towns and villages and a much safer major road network. A Senator spoke of reverting to the policy of focusing on bypassing minor towns rather than putting in place a good spine of national roads. The focus on bypasses was a disaster, and I think we are now going in the right direction.
This year we provided over £319 million for non-national roads, an increase of over 21% on the initial 2000 allocation. This level of commitment to the non-national roads programme will be maintained up to 2006. The inclusion of non-national roads in NDP operational programmes for the southern and eastern and Border, midlands and western regions underlines their vital importance to these regions and guarantees the full resourcing of the work over the next six years.
The restoration programme remains at the centre of efforts to improve the non-national roads network. Since its inception in 1995, 15,346 road improvement schemes have been completed, with over 21,567 kilometres of non-national roads benefiting from improvement. Allocations for 2001 also include over £32 million in non-national road grants to support development such as housing. Grant assistance will be provided to local authorities in the greater Dublin area, Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford and adjoining counties, where housing demand is highest, for certain strategic non-national roads to support housing, industrial, commercial and other developments. That scheme will provide grant aid of £294 million, outside of the non-national roads programme, for 42 projects between 2001 and 2004.
The plan's approach to developing transport infrastructure is not confined to investing in  national and non-national roads, as it contains a record level of £2.2 billion in 1999 prices to develop public transport infrastructure in Dublin and throughout the country. This investment will expand our overall public transport infrastructure, maximise the efficiency of the road system, improve accessibility for those without private transport to service their needs, and improve the environmental sustainability of the system. Members are familiar with the main features of the planned public transport system like Luas, the completion of work on the rail safety programme for mainline rail, which is 50% complete, and the improvement of bus services throughout the country, including long distance services and urban services in Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Galway. We are trying to improve the quality of life in rural areas and are, therefore, also concentrating on the rural transport scheme.
This programme is being overseen by the Minister for Public Enterprise and it is achieving considerable success. There have been major improvements in the quality and frequency of bus services because of the commissioning of 125 new low floor, wheelchair accessible buses by Dublin Bus. This has led to a substantial increase in the peak time carrying capacity of the fleet. There are already six quality bus corridors in place and a further three will be in operation by the end of this year. This will lead to an improved quality of service for commuters.
The commissioning of 40 new buses by Bus Éireann led to significant improvement in services to centres such as my town of Trim, Navan and Drogheda and the Kildare and Wicklow areas. A further 34 buses to be delivered later this year will allow further improvements to services to be made. DART and suburban rail services have been substantially improved through new DART carriages. An order for 60 Arrow carriages has been placed with delivery due in late 2002 and the construction of the light rail network has commenced. Good progress has been made in the improvement of public transport services outside Dublin. By the end of 2001, in excess of 200 miles of rail track will have been renewed and in excess of 200 level crossings will have been upgraded as part of the railway safety programme I mentioned earlier.
Water and waste water services are sometimes taken for granted, but they are a vital element of infrastructure. For this reason, water and waste water infrastructure are also benefiting substantially from an expanded programme of work under the NDP. The investment programme responds directly to the issues of water supply networks and leakages from them, the need to improve protection of watercourses and improved standards regarding waste water. The aim of the programme is to provide an adequate water supply and waste water infrastructure to meet growing economic and social needs, to secure compliance with EU and national standards in relation to waste water and drinking water, to remedy existing pollution and prevent  future water pollution and to improve the management of the network generally.
The total investment in this programme is £3 billion and the first major step in rolling out this investment was the water services programme, covering the period 2000 to 2001, which I launched last July. The programme provides for the construction of 529 schemes consisting of 79 major water and sewerage schemes, 113 further schemes to proceed to construction during the 2000-02 period, 131 schemes to begin planning in preparation for construction during the NDP period, 140 serviced land initiative schemes and 66 schemes under the rural towns and villages initiative. The major projects included are the completion of the Dublin Bay, Cork, Limerick and Waterford main drainage schemes. The total investment under this three year programme is £2.1 billion. Public-private partnerships will play an increasing role over the period of the NDP in delivering these projects
In terms of quality of life issues, the serious problem of the quality of water in rural areas has been met head on. There are continuing serious problems in private water supplies, particularly group water schemes, and they will benefit substantially under the NDP. Approximately £8 million or £9 million was provided in 1997 for this area but a record £35 million has been provided this year. This investment enables us to confidently predict that inferior drinking water quality in rural areas will be eliminated within three years.
Investment in infrastructure on the scale contained in the NDP imposes substantial challenges on the bodies with responsibility for delivering it. Since the launch of the plan, the Government has devoted considerable time and energy to the issue of deliverability. This has involved a hands-on approach through the Cabinet committee on infrastructure which is chaired by the Taoiseach. I attended a meeting of that committee earlier today. Initiatives have been taken already to intensify the public-private partnership approach to infrastructural development in all the programmes I mentioned. The Cabinet committee also monitors progress on the major projects and this will continue during the lifetime of the plan to ensure that the vision of the NDP is realised.
I outlined a number of programmes, but others are equally important, particularly the housing programme. These matters are covered by the plan, the aim of which is to improve the quality of life for everybody living and working in Ireland and in maintaining our capacity for continued growth and development. Over the period of the national development plan, we will all benefit from reduced journey and commuting times, safer roads, better and safer public transport services, improved drinking water and surface water quality and improved health, housing, education and community facilities. The economic growth we have enjoyed in recent years is giving us the opportunity to make up for the years of under-investment and to ensure that the public have the  infrastructure and services to underpin a high quality of life.
The commitment of the Government to provide for the development of the national infrastructure is demonstrated in the national development plan. The commitment has been matched by unprecedented financial resources and the ongoing special attention of the Cabinet. I am, therefore, confident that the infrastructural investment programme of the NDP will be fully implemented and I look forward to the continued support of Members of the House in achieving it.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: There are 12 minutes remaining, of which five are for the proposer of the motion. However, it should be put on the record that when the Minister takes extra time, some latitude should be allowed.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach: I understand Senator Norris also indicated that he wished to speak. I am anxious to ensure that as many Members as possible have an opportunity to speak so I ask for the co-operation of the House.
Mr. Burke: I welcome the debate; it is a pity more time was not made available. The matter should be discussed on another occasion outside  Private Members' business because it is most important. The Minister said that more than half of the plan's 51 billion investment is dedicated to economic, social and environmental infrastructure. These programmes cover roads, public transport, water, waste water and its management, sustainable energy, social housing, health facilities and urban and village development. Senator O'Toole referred to downturns in the economy and said that in ten years, there will be no manufacturing jobs left in Ireland.
Mr. Burke: Senator O'Toole elaborated on that point and said that was the way matters are developing. Ireland will spend 102 billion over the next few years, but that is where we will end up. I have called on a number of occasions for a debate on the BMW region which is not receiving a fair share of funding.
Senator O'Toole made an important point that manufacturing jobs could be lost because of high wages and the fact that the Government is not investing sufficiently in research and development. I agree the Government should invest more funds in this area. While there has been massive growth in recent years in the IT sector, which on balance has lifted the whole country, we are not putting in place research and development facilities. The Minister should take up this aspect with his colleagues in Government because if we do not fund this area, we are going nowhere as a nation. Senator O'Toole is correct that we could be facing into a downward trend in the not too distant future.
In the few minutes I have left, I wish to be parochial and ask the Minister to look at the N5 route. While he said the national development plan will be in place for the next five or six years, there is no funding available for the national primary route from Charlestown to Tarmonbarry—
Mr. Burke: —other than funds to buy maps to outline the route. This is not sufficient because the area will be left way behind. There is no funding available for the N5, an area which has also a very poor rail service.
Mr. Burke: I hope the Minister will indicate it is not true. I would draw Senator Cassidy's attention to the needs study which took place 15 years before any development to the N5. The Minister mentioned in his speech all the national routes, bar the N5. He should clarify if funding is being made available for that route.
Mr. Burke: The Minister mentioned many routes to the Border, Cork, Limerick and the five cities outside Dublin. He also mentioned bus routes, Luas, the DART and the N4 to Galway but there is no mention of the N5.
Two or three years ago, the Minister prioritised various local authorities for funding for small sewerage schemes. In the past two years, he has not prioritised any small schemes for funding, those for small towns with a population of less than 1,000. This would be of major benefit to schemes on the outskirts of towns which are coming under a lot of pressure. I hope this year the Minister will allocate funding to local authorities throughout the country for small sewerage schemes.
I am not pleased with what the Minister has outlined in the national development plan for the BMW region. I have asked the Leader of the House on numerous occasions for a debate on how the BMW region is faring in terms of funding compared to other regions because I believe we are not receiving our fair share. The Dublin region is getting a national stadium, which I welcome, together with Luas, motorways and so on. It is time the BMW region, which includes Senator Cassidy's area, was taken into consideration. I ask the Minister to consider funding for the N5 and the small sewerage schemes to which I have referred.
Ms Quill: In three minutes I will make three points and I hope Members will not think I am the cribber of the month. I do not have time to put on record my approval of the plan or my optimism that it will sow the seeds of good development into the next generation and beyond. I regret that I must draw to the Minister's attention aspects that need to be attended to.
I welcome the proposal to extend the railway lines, including the Cork to Midleton and Cork to Blarney lines which will be reopened. That railways service worked well 100 years ago and there is no reason why it should not work well now. I would like to see more investment in railways because there will not be a good quality of life if the number of cars on the roads continues to increase, regardless of how fine the roads are. We must invest money in public transport and put better management in place.
I would like to draw the Minister's attention to the lack of cohesion between the different elements of the public service. For example, I travelled this morning from Cork on the intercity train, which is an excellent train service from Cork to Dublin. When I arrived in Dublin I had to wait for a taxi. Even though there are a fair number of taxis available, to get a taxi from Heuston Station one must come out on to St. John's Road West which carries the heaviest volume of traffic in the country and where taxis must compete with the flow of traffic to pick up people  who come off the train. If a taxi rank was positioned at the other side of the station opposite the Ashling Hotel, it would eliminate that bottleneck. That simple change to create a space for taxis would make a huge difference. I ask the Minister to ensure this happens.
In any other European country, one could buy a ticket in Cork which would also allow one to travel on buses. Why should one have to purchase tickets in railway stations, bus stations and so on? Are we not intelligent enough to introduce some cohesion in this area which would add to the quality of life?
On the non-national routes, I am pleased at the money being invested in this area. However, road-building is more than just road-surfacing. Road-building is a package of measures made up of proper advance signage, proper directional signage, proper safety signage and proper lane and line markings. Sometimes we fall down on that aspect. I found myself in a part of north Cork recently and I might as well have been in the Sahara Desert. Every time I arrived at a crossroads, there was no sign, and I did not know whether I was travelling north, south, east or west. I pity tourists trying to navigate their way in that type of situation, which I do not exaggerate.
I flew from Cork Airport to Dublin Airport on Monday. Millions of pounds have been ploughed into Dublin Airport in the recent past but whoever is responsible for the modernisation of the airport is a sadist. One would only find such a place in the most horrible of horror films. Anyone who goes through the arrivals or departure area at that airport will never have to go to Lough Derg. There are times when one's stocking is so torn at the heel that stitching and darning will not be sufficient and it must be thrown out. Dublin Airport is a nightmare which needs to be addressed. I do not know how this can be done but whoever designed the airport needs to be made accountable for the obstacles he has put in the way of people who use the airport.
Mr. Walsh: The motion has generated much good debate and some good points have been made. Of all the contributions, there was none finer than the Minister's. He showed a breadth of vision and a comprehensive knowledge of what needs to be done and what is in the plan. This is only what we expect from somebody who is one of the architects of this plan, which is the most ambitious ever to come before either House of the Oireachtas.
The first of these plans was in the late 1980s when our public finances were in an appalling condition. The overriding objective was to control them and to tackle the very serious unemployment problem we had. We were successful in both of those. If this plan is pursued with the same commitment and dedication, it should yield the  results that we all aspire to. Improving the quality of life has been identified as the overriding objective of the plan. As we become more affluent, this becomes a greater priority.
As the Minister pointed out, the plan is a comprehensive blueprint for the future and not merely about roads, rail, waste, water treatment etc. Putting £500 million into the technology fund is a major new initiative. Given that we are now the number one exporter of computer software in the world, it is appropriate that we should invest heavily in that sector. People with skills are required to ensure that we keep up with the tremendous pace of change in that industry and bed it down as a key industry for the future.
The Minister announced £100 million for sewage treatment plants in rural towns and villages. One of the Senators mentioned agriculture. The development of our food industry is one of the key objectives in the plan which has a wide remit.
While road and rail form only part of the plan, quality of life will hinge on success in improving deficiencies in that area. The plan has a vision  of motorways or high standard dual carriageways between the major population centres and the capital city. Missing from the plan – I hope it will be in the next plan – is a proposal to connect those provincial population centres directly with the same standard of roads. If this is not done, we will attract investment into the city when we should be developing those other major population centres. I agree fully with what the Minister said about bypasses.
In my area, we are looking at a second river crossing and consultants have been assessing this for almost two years. There needs to be fast-tracking so that the consultation process, which obviously needs to be thorough, can be done speedily and will not become an impediment to the objectives in the plan.
At a time of economic success and significant surplus in the Exchequer, it is important that we invest wisely to secure a sustainable economy for future generations. This plan is the blueprint for that. I hope that it will be implemented in a way that will yield the results that are required.
Ó Fearghail, Seán.
Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
|Last Updated: 10/09/2010 22:41:48||Page of 11|