Transport (Railway Infrastructure) Bill, 2001: Second Stage.

Wednesday, 16 May 2001

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 166 No. 13

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Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke): Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I am happy this important legislation is being introduced in the Seanad. I always try as far as possible to introduce my Department's Bills in the Seanad before bringing them to Dáil Éireann. The Bill provides for the establishment of an independent statutory State body, the railway procurement agency; a single statutory railway order procedure for the approval of railway infrastructure projects, including light rail and metro; and the regulation of light rail services when operating on-street. Before going into the detail of the Bill, I will give some background to its introduction.

The Government is committed to providing the country with a more modern and efficient transport infrastructure through the national development plan and the proposals in the DTO strategy, A Platform for Change. The NDP sets out a public transport investment strategy for the period 2000-06 designed to achieve, inter alia, a radical transformation of the public transport system. Investment of £2.2 billion is provided for in the plan for public transport. This is an unprecedented level of funding, which will enable significant advances to be made in the coming years.

I am pleased to report progress to date in delivering a number of public transport projects, including, the acquisition of 225 buses by Dublin Bus in 2000; 26 new DART carriages delivered to Iarnród Éireann; 60 Arrow rail cars ordered, with delivery commencing in 2003; and 148 new buses acquired by Bus Éireann in 2000 with 40 for the greater Dublin area and the remainder for use in provincial cities and on rural services.

Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go in providing the public transport infrastructure and services required by our expanding economy. The development of the rail system forms an important part of our transport proposals. In addition to the significant investment being made in an enhanced suburban and mainline rail system, a light rail system and a metro system for Dublin form an important part of the strategy, as Dublin in particular faces a rapidly increasing demand for travel, particularly public transport, as congestion increases.

Significant advances have been made to date on the Luas light rail project: a preferred bidder has been selected for the main construction contract involving track laying and cabling, which will [954] commence shortly; construction of the depot at the Red Cow will be completed in July 2001; 40 trams have been ordered, the first will be delivered in October of this year; a competition for the award of the operator's contract for the first lines commenced in December 2000. The contract will be awarded in September 2001 and services on all lines remain on target to begin in 2003.

In addition, the Government has approved, in principle, the development of a metro system for Dublin. The metro will represent the single biggest infrastructure project ever delivered by the State. The introduction of the metro and the extension of the light rail network will require the particular focus and attention of an implementing body and that is why I propose, under the Bill, to establish the Railway Procurement Agency.

I am pleased to say that preliminary preparatory work on the metro has already been commenced by the light rail project office of CIE. This office, suitably restructured and expanded, will form the starting point for the new agency.

As ever, finance will play a vital role in determining the priorities for the introduction of projects. The magnitude of the public transport infrastructure projects identified and associated costs means that the Exchequer alone will not be in a position to provide all the funding required. Alternative means of finance must be found and in this regard, the proper application of public private partnerships offer huge potential benefits to the State. The emphasis in any PPP should be on real partnership where public sector values are combined with private sector efficiencies.

In Ireland, the success of the overall PPP programme must also be rooted in our social partnership model. This system of delivering stability through consensus on major economic, social and other issues is one of the main reasons for Ireland's recent economic success. Successful PPPs must also be built on the development and maintenance of trust between key stakeholders and on shared objectives for the delivery to the public of quality public transport.

In this regard, the work being done by the public-private informal advisory group on PPPs on developing a framework for public private partnerships will be extremely important. Once agreed by all parties, this framework will represent an important step in clarifying guidelines for participation of the public and private sector in such arrangements. The Railway Procurement Agency will be required to conform with these agreed guidelines.

The main advantages of PPPs, namely, value for money, optimum risk allocation and the inherent focus on services, have considerable appeal for major transport projects. To advance the application of PPPs for rail-based projects, my Department recently began a consultation process in relation to the framework policy to be applied. This consultation process is an important part of the development of a PPP approach to the delivery of our key projects. It is important to provide an opportunity for all interested partners [955] to contribute their views on the formation of policy. As we are at the early stages, we need to develop our thinking on the optimal approach to public transport PPPs. We are also keen to learn from alternative approaches based on the successful experience of potential partners. The Railway Procurement Agency will be the vehicle for financing major new transport infrastructure such as Luas and metro.

My Department undertook a consultation process on the proposals contained in the general scheme of the Bill and those views are reflected, in the main, in the drafting. I will now outline briefly the main provisions of the Bill. There are five main Parts. Part 1 contains standard sections – Title, interpretations, repeals, continuations etc. Part 2 deals with the establishment of the Railway Procurement Agency. Part 3 details the statutory approval procedures for any new railway infrastructure project. Part 4 deals with the on-street regulation of light railways and Part 5 contains miscellaneous provisions. Each of the Parts are dealt with in more detail in my script, which is available to everybody. I would prefer to hear people's contributions.

The functions of the agencies are set out in section 11. Provisions in relation to the composition of the agency, its chief executive and staff are dealt with in sections 20 to 29.

Railway developments, as authorised by the Minister and specified in a railway order, are to be exempted developments in the context of the Planning and Development Act, 2000. Before making a decision on whether to grant a railway order, section 43 obliges the Minister to consider the application and accompanying documentation. Where the Minister is of the opinion that an application for a railway should be granted, he or she will make an order authorising the construction, maintenance etc. of the railway.

Among the safety matters covered in Part 4 are speed limits, qualifications and competencies required by a driver of a light rail vehicle. Provision is also made for CIE, with the consent of the Minister and the Minister for Finance, to set up one or more subsidiary companies under the Companies Act. Section 71 amends the Transport (Re-Organisation of CIE) Act, 1986, to allow for an increase in the number of board members of the three CIE subsidiaries – Iarnród Éireann, Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann.

The Bill plays an important role in providing a structure under which railway infrastructure can be developed. With the prospect of the Luas vehicles arriving in the country later this year, the moment has come to focus on their operation. As the House may be aware, in a little over two years' time, a light rail service will begin operating on the Sandyford and Tallaght to city centre lines. In the meantime, a franchise will be allocated for their operation and I want to see the contracting body, the Railway Procurement Agency, in place later this year to allow for full [956] testing and commissioning prior to the commencement of operations in 2003.

The Bill is concerned with the operation of Luas and the metro, although I am more than willing to listen to the views of all Members who contribute, and is not concerned with heavy rail. I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr. Caffrey: Information on Ernie Caffrey  Zoom on Ernie Caffrey  I welcome the Minister to the House. I welcome the Bill in so far as it goes but, like many areas in CIE, it does not go far enough. At first glance I thought the Bill was major legislation which would overhaul the entire railway system.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  It was not intended to do that.

Mr. Caffrey: Information on Ernie Caffrey  Zoom on Ernie Caffrey  I know that now from reading the Bill but that would be my main criticism of it. I am looking at it from a western standpoint and, unfortunately, we will have to endure the current set-up for many more days to come.

Why did the Minister not confer new powers on the existing agency and board of CIE rather than set up another board with a new chief executive and all that entails in terms of money, responsibility and accountability? On reading the Bill one would think that powers could be transferred to the existing machinery in CIE, unless it is an attempt to give a new image to the light rail and the metro systems. Perhaps it is an attempt to lay the Percy French ghost of the railway system to rest as far as new infrastructure is concerned.

I welcome the reference to the role of public-private partnerships in terms of future infrastructural development. Such partnerships have great potential and will significantly impact on the further development of the light rail and metro systems in Dublin. However, apart from this section, the Bill fell short of what I anticipated.

In the old days, CIE had a monopoly on commercial and passenger transportation and no other operator could carry commercial produce or passengers without a licence. Private hauliers required a plate to carry anything. If a dozen boxes of matches had to be transported from Dublin to Ballina, Westport or Castlebar, the owner of the vehicle had to own a plate.

The liberalisation of the industry in the mid-1980s opened up new opportunities in the commercial sector. At the time CIE lost much of its business as it was unable to provide services due to bad management, inter-union rivalry and industrial disputes. This business was lost because private enterprise took the initiative. If a farmer baling hay broke a piece of machinery which had to be replaced by a part from Dublin, CIE would not deliver the part if it was later than 5.30 p.m. Private operators seized such opportunities, bought vans, collected parts from Dublin and delivered them to farmers who could be back in business by that night. Such operators may now have ten articulated trucks on the road. This busi[957] ness has gone to the private sector and CIE lost all its commercial business.

In the 1960s and 1970s CIE delivered supplies to public houses, hardware stores and garages. However, this practice has now ceased because of the poor quality of service, inter-union rivalries, industrial disputes, inefficiency and bad management. Roads are now full of articulated vehicles transporting hundreds of thousands of tonnes of produce while the railways remain idle. Some stations in rural areas may only have two or three trains per day. This is an anomaly in a developing economy which I hoped would be addressed in the Bill.

I hoped the Bill would bring CIE into the modern era in terms of providing facilities, effective management and a quality delivery service for the public. The public requires such a service and wants goods to be delivered on time. People do not want to know whether a business closes at 5.30 p.m. or 6.30 p.m. They want the goods they need to run their businesses. Given the competitive nature of business, one cannot be idle for one hour, let alone one day. The Bill does not address these issues.

One of the important elements of the Bill is the use of the word “new”. The Bill is concerned with everything new, not with anything old. The Minister clarified that nothing will change with regard to heavy rail.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Nothing with regard to procurement.

Mr. Caffrey: Information on Ernie Caffrey  Zoom on Ernie Caffrey  I am concerned that with two agencies running the one system, they may get their rails crossed. There will also be considerable concern about the management demarcation lines.

I referred to the fact that the powers contained in the Bill could easily be conferred on the existing agency. The Minister may offer an explanation as to the reason a new agency, controlled by a chief executive and seven board members appointed by the Minister, is being established on a statutory basis. As with the Sustainable Energy Bill debated in the House last week, the Bill excludes all Members of the Oireachtas and local authorities from the new agency. Is there a suspicion in the public service or the Department that there is no talent in the Oireachtas or local authorities? There are Members of both Houses and local authorities who have particular expertise in this area and could contribute to the new agency.

I also referred to the manner in which the liberalisation of the transport sector in the mid-1980s revolutionised commercial activity. It is regrettable that CIE lost this business. If a private company is losing business, its management sits back, tries to identify the reasons and usually comes up with a strategy to reclaim lost business. There is an opportunity for the Minister to examine the commercial decline of CIE. It may not be possible to deal with the issue in the Bill, but I hope [958] she will introduce further legislation regarding this matter.

The Minister stated that she proposes on Committee Stage to insert an additional subsection in section 11 to clarify that the agency will act as a railway operator only in exceptional circumstances, as determined by the Minister. Will she clarify that amendment? Is the Minister concerned that demarcation lines could become blurred with two agencies running the railway and light rail systems?

We may be walking into another union minefield in terms of representation. It is important the Minister lays down the demarcation lines so we do not have a repeat of the inter-union rivalry of the past two years. The service to the west has been riven in recent years by inter-union rivalry and disputes of all kinds.

I mentioned commercial activity in CIE. Passenger numbers are dropping because the public is disillusioned with the public transport system, especially in rural Ireland. One cannot be given a guarantee whether a train will run or if it will reach its destination on time. That is unacceptable.

Last week, I spoke on the Order of Business on the dispute that was taking place. I did not criticise the Minister, the Department or the Government for the problems that had arisen. I placed the criticism where the problems lay. The unions realised their position and, at the eleventh hour, sensibly called off the dispute. Where tourism is concerned, the country is going through a difficult period. Tourists could not get from A to B because of the problems with the unions. I was particularly scathing of this last week. I do not believe in criticising people for the sake of doing so.

At first glance I thought I had before me important reformatory legislation concerning the public transport system, but unfortunately I do not. As I said, my main concern is that the demarcation lines are not clouded by too many agencies running the system and that union rivalry does not arise as a result. The real substance in the legislation is in the section dealing with public-private partnership. The Minister is wise in recognising that this is the correct approach. However, public-private partnership in the transport system in rural areas is not viable and may not be in the foreseeable future. The public transport system that has been inherited, with all its deficiencies from the past, is not enticing to the private sector. In Dublin and major cities, things are different. Private partnership will be the way forward and will reduce the financial burden on the public sector. Public sector expenditure will be matched by investment from the private sector. I see merit in the Bill in this regard.

I was hoping the Minister would tackle the whole public transport system head-on. I know that privatisation of the public transport system is not an option. We have seen what happened in England because of privatisation and we do not want to follow suit. The critical mass in England [959] is very different from that here. If privatisation did not work in England, it certainly will not work here. Therefore, State involvement in our transport system will continue. Nevertheless, some liberalisation may be necessary. The Bill before the House is cautiously liberalising. Before this time next year, I hope we will have a substantial body of legislation concerning the public transport system, and I will be the first to welcome it. I welcome the Bill, but it does not go far enough for my liking.

Mr. L. Fitzgerald: Information on Liam Fitzgerald  Zoom on Liam Fitzgerald  I welcome the Minister to the House and I commend the initiation of this Bill in the Seanad. The Minister and Senator Caffrey both agreed it is not major legislation, but it is significant in the sense that it is another step in the progression of the Minister towards the complete overhaul and revitalisation of the public transport system. The Bill, as the Minister said, proposes to establish a new Railway Procurement Agency, which will be an independent, commercial statutory public body. This wording is important because while the agency will operate under the aegis of the Minister, it will have a degree of independence that will be important in the context of its work. That is laudable.

The principal function of the agency will be the procurement of new railway infrastructure. It will allow for private sector participation in the construction operation. From the Minister's speech, we know that this is already well under way.

The construction and maintenance of new railways is facilitated in the Bill. The Bill replaces the Transport (Dublin Light Rail) Act, 1996, but re-enacts many of its provisions, although in a modified form in some cases. It provides for the regulation of the light rail system when running on the street.

The revitalisation of the country's public transport system is a vital task, especially in the greater Dublin region. The Bill is consistent with the Government's vision for the public transport system. It moves the whole programme forward and I commend it.

As the Minister said, the economy is enjoying phenomenal success. To maintain this growth, a radical overhaul of our infrastructure, especially our transport infrastructure, is imperative. There are a few self-professed experts on public transport in the media, most of whom are extremely positive with regard to the developments carried out by the Minister. I did not realise that those few, whose names are familiar to us all, had such expertise in public transport strategy development. Who am I, being uneducated on the whole Government transport area, to offer to contest their views? They are expounding on the subject in a very assertive manner.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Who are these people? Let us put their names on record.

[960]Mr. L. Fitzgerald: Information on Liam Fitzgerald  Zoom on Liam Fitzgerald  I would not include my esteemed colleague who has been ongoing and determined in his commitment and support for what the Minister is doing. Since I have been a Member of this House, the Senator has been consistent in supporting the issue of light rail and of the underground element of this in the inner city. A man of his learning and interest can appreciate, perhaps far more deeply than others, the significance of that and the enhancement it will provide for the historical, architectural and other riches of the Dublin inner city.

Despite all the criticism at the time suggesting that it would be a white elephant, when the Minister came to office, there was no vision or sense of direction regarding the development of the public transport infrastructure. In a sense she is perversely accused of being one of the guilty parties for creating this problem because her actions helped to bring our thriving economy into being. All the young people in cars complaining about the gridlock on our streets should realise that if there was not such a thriving economy they would not have cars in the first place.

Far be it from me to knock our enthusiastic, vibrant, dynamic young people who are earning a good living and buying cars. Unfortunately, the negative side of this is that we have congestion and gridlock, and when one is in a hurry to work, in many instances to a good job, one has to blame somebody. There is no instant, quick-fix solution and the Minister does not need my support or that of Senator Norris, but we are very happy to give it. The Minister has been criticised and asked to wave another one of her magic wands to solve the problem overnight. That is folly and the height of naiveté.

The system was loaded with deficiencies and awash with weakness. Senator Caffrey, in commending the Bill, stated that there were certain aspects of it that would encompass more progress in the area of legislation. I am not quibbling with that, he is entitled to his point of view, but I thought I heard him say he would have preferred more power to be conferred on CIE. If he did not say that, I apologise, but from my perspective I am extremely concerned that not alone were more powers not conferred on CIE, but that the process has begun to significantly dilute the powers invested in them. I am not sure the Minister would agree with that point, but it is my opinion that if any company bled the taxpayer over many years and abused and distorted the power invested in them by successive Governments, it was CIE.

The last time I spoke about CIE, I think I quoted from Shakespeare's Hamlet“There is something rotten in the State of Denmark”. There was and is something very strange about the whole CIE culture and this is a positive way of sending a clear message to CIE that thus far has it gone with taxpayers' money, thus far has it gone with quibbling and internal squabbling and an abject lack of ability to deal with industrial relations in the company. It is high time that we [961] as responsible legislators deliver a quality service in the interests of taxpayers. The Minister does not need lectures from me to tell her of her responsibilities in this regard or to ensure that a company under the aegis of her Department delivers a quality service in the most efficient manner possible, and to root out the needless and negative squabbling that has been going on.

I commend the approach of this Bill which provides for an agency to deliver the 21st century service that is required throughout the country. This Bill specifically deals with the Transport (Dublin Light Rail) Act, 1996, referring in particular to the Luas and metro. I could go on ad nauseam about the history of the past few years – it seems a long time ago since 1998 when the Minister decided, with the approval of the Government, to launch Luas. There was an overwhelming welcome for her decision, but again I refer to some of our media friends who put themselves up on pedestals. They suggested that she was putting herself on one, but it was they who were doing so. They told the people in their newspapers and other media fora that it would not happen. The Minister was busy at that time answering the critics to reassure the public.

The Minister has clearly shown that not alone can she talk the talk, but she is walking the walk. She is responsible for the progress that has been made since 1988 in pushing forward this programme, including the variations that have had to take place since the initial announcement and the comprehensive additions which have been made. When the announcement was made to include the underground element and to link the system to the national network, there was a hue and cry from three or four prominent media names, suggesting that it was a fudge and that the Minister would not bring forward a Bill to have streets torn up before a general election.

This Bill gives the lie to that. It is not necessary to add much comment to that. These people are very silent now and are no more to be heard shouting from the rooftops. They are no longer promulgating their heresy because they know the lie has been unambiguously nailed. I do not want to go into the statistics of what the Government has committed, through the Minister, in terms of the development and revitalisation of the public service infrastructure, with specific reference to the Dublin area and surrounding counties. It is not just a promise as the money is up-front.

There is progress regarding the construction of the early Luas lines. I assert that the timetable is very much up to speed. I commend Padraic White and his team for the tremendous work they are doing. I understand from reading the report last night that there has been a slight delay in construction. There has also been a difficulty in getting outside agencies to give the same kind of focus and priority to the full synchronisation of the work. I know that the Ministerfor Public Enterprise, Deputy O'Rourke, and her Department are working vigorously to ensure that focus and priority, which are essential, will be given.

[962] The indicative timetable of 2003 for completion of construction of the three lines was announced by the Minister in 1998. The setback of four to five months was outside the control of the Department and of the advisory action group, whose task is restricted to monitoring, flagging and signalling difficulties in synchronisation and other roadblocks – if that is the correct term – on the way. It is very heartening to learn from the report of the advisory action group that despite that setback the preferred bidder has already been selected.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Accepted.

Mr. L. Fitzgerald: Information on Liam Fitzgerald  Zoom on Liam Fitzgerald  I understand that the agency will be signing the contract. Tremendous progress has been made despite a necessary and massive programme of public consultation. There were people here, and in Dublin Corporation, shouting about the need to railroad this project through. In the next breath, however, the same people would have damned and indicted any national or local authority that would have dared try in the slightest way to ride roughshod over the democratic rights of individuals, community groups or industrial and commercial operators.

The Minister listed the areas of progress made and I will advert to one or two of these. Last night, I looked at some drawings of the Red Cow depot, the interchange on the Tallaght line. It is progressing very satisfactorily. The construction of the depot at Sandyford has also started. The first tram is scheduled for delivery in October and further trams will be delivered every six months from next January onwards. Many other services will have to be put in place so that passenger services can begin on schedule.

It is not just a matter of building the lines. We think purely in terms of putting in the lines and the Minister making available sufficient money to finish them, buy the trams and run them. We dismiss all the other essential elements that have to fall into place in tandem with the construction programme. The railway inspectorate, for example, has to see to the commissioning and ensure that safety standards are looked after. The watchdog appointed by the Minister, the advisory action group, is working extremely hard and is in constant contact with the Department to ensure that the Minister is alerted to any hitches that are developing. The manner in which the Minister widened the scope of monitoring, which is a word that CIE might be somewhat sensitive about, has ensured that the various elements of the project are coming on stream within the time schedules laid down. That is marvellous considering the enormity of the project.

While listening to the admirable and positive contributions made by Senator Norris and others, I was struck by the controversy surrounding the Government decision to include the underground section in the inner city. I recall that three, four, maybe five, geologists popped up back then to tell the Minister that it could not be done. It was, [963] they said, financially and geologically prohibitive and the Minister would be absolutely daft even to contemplate it. Despite that, she took the consultants' reports – a number of geo-technical studies and other reports were produced at the time – and decided that the proposal was feasible, logical, sensible and reasonable, not alone from the point of view of delivering on schedule and efficiency, but also from the perspective of the quality of life and quality of the environment in the inner city. The project was commendable, admirable and imperative on those grounds and on many others, which my esteemed friend, Senator Norris, is more than able to articulate.

The Minister had the conviction to go forward with it. At that time, we asked why London and Paris have tunnels and even the Eiffel Tower. Why are these engineering problems so difficult in the 21st century? How come we have not advanced in the past 100 to 150 years, given that engineers then, who found it almost impossible to study at university, could design and deliver these projects? At the time, it was regarded as ludicrous and irresponsible that these projects should be contemplated, let alone put in place.

This is not a technical or geological problem but a matter of where there is a will, there is a way. Some of our best experts who positively welcomed it pointed out that ultimately it comes down to the sponsor. If the sponsor is committed, the project will be delivered. Those of us who are reasonable and fair about the matter will agree that this Minister, as the project's sponsor, has the commitment and will deliver it.

I wanted to speak in detail about public private partnerships, which were referred to by Senator Caffrey. I too am very interested in this very exciting development. I note also the consultation paper launched by the Minister last month and the options being deliberated by the Minister as to how we move forward, using a step-by-step approach, towards a point where partnership in public transport can work, not alone in the interests of the taxpayer but in the interests of greater efficiency and continuity of service. The relationship between the various parties to the partnerships will be worked out and defined before the programme is up and running. I commend the Minister on that initiative.

I did not have an opportunity to talk about the metro which is being looked at as a public private partnership. This legislation is not extensive but it is significant and will give further impetus to and greater focus on the realisation of the three Luas lines. It will also provide significant guidance and legislative direction for the completion of the project. I commend the Bill.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  I too welcome the Minister. It is always a pleasure to see her in the House because she has her brief thoroughly under her command and can deal with issues – I nearly said on the hoof but that would be rather a discourtesy—

[964]Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Especially when we have foot and mouth disease.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  Indeed. It is always a pleasure to take part in a debate like this with a Minister as skilful and as much on top of her brief as this one. It was also interesting to hear the stimulating comments of Senator Fitzgerald. I was overwhelmed by his flattering comments about myself, especially when I was rude enough to interrupt him. I only did so to find out if he would give an indication of which people he was thinking of. I have no such bashfulness. It amuses to find the environmental correspondent of The Irish Times, who is so passionately pro-Luas, to be equally antagonistic to any suggestion of putting anything whatsoever underground, trotting out all the arguments that were derided and rubbished when I put them forward in this House as amendments to the Dublin transport Bill in 1996. Now, however, it is called metro so there is a slight saving of face. One would think that the metro did not go underground, but thank God it does because it is the only way to solve many of our transport problems.

We certainly have transport problems, which are the creation of a complex variety of factors including, as Senator Liam Fitzgerald said, the boom in the economy. One of the reasons this House is a useful place to discuss these matters is that there is not the normal shrill partisanship and blaming of one Government or another. The problems in transport have built up over a lengthy period and I am glad that we now have a determined Minister, clearly intent on cutting through the difficulties. I want to mention a couple of those.

In the Sunday Independent of last Sunday, Colm Kenny had the following to say:

Last Tuesday I sat in the reality of jammed traffic wondering why Ireland is unable or unwilling to provide itself with a public transport system that works. Just two DART drivers had gone on strike, but it was enough to reduce the service to a shambles. By Wednesday I was back on the DART now wondering why some windows on the new DARTs are kept locked. It may seem a small thing to someone who does not travel by public transport but it is another irritant to those who do, as bad as being stuck in a car in sunshine and unable to open a window.

He then detailed how he approached various sections of what used to be CIE, now in Iarnród Éireann, looked for explanations and got three or four different and mutually contradictory ones. In transport, particularly in rail, there is undoubtedly chaos and a really severe management problem. The recent strike was appalling, the result of an inter-union dispute, and the Minister was quite correct in not becoming involved. It would have been disastrous had she enmeshed herself in it. However, it indicates something seriously wrong.

The secretaries, or political assistants as they [965] are now called, are extraordinarily capable people. Mine lives in Skerries and she related the following story. The train this morning was 15 minutes late because the doors failed to open and it just shot through without explanation. A replacement was sent from Drogheda which had only two carriages, so people were squeezed in like sardines. When the driver got to Connolly station he simply parked the train and got out, though most people wanted to go on to Pearse station. No announcement was made but eventually someone said that they should all get the DART, which led to a rush.

Most of the time it is impossible to get a seat from Skerries and half the time people are put into the luggage compartment. I am sure the Minister is aware of the wheelchair-bound woman in Kerry who was stuck into the engine room of the train. That tells us there are serious problems with management-staff relations, infrastructure and inadequate rolling stock. The Minister has indicated that there is very substantial investment and I am glad of that. A theory has been sketched out by the Minister and there were sceptics but we are beginning to get the nuts and bolts. It is all working, very much of a piece. There is a document from the Department of the Environment to the Department of Public Enterprise on new institutional arrangements for land used in transport in the greater Dublin area, which I read in conjunction with the Bill because there is an integrated approach in this area.

The Minister said:

In addition, the Government has approved, in principle, the development of a metro system for Dublin. The metro will represent the single biggest infrastructure project ever delivered by the State.

I am a little concerned about the use of the phrase “in principle”. I hope it does not mean there is a suggestion of the Government's commitment being fragile. The Minister is shaking her head vigorously. I really want a commitment and a timescale because this metro system could be installed on a much more rapid basis than is being projected. I am not normally a conspiracy theorist, but I had experience, when we were fighting to get an underground, of the obfuscation within certain sections of the bureaucracy. There are still those committed to frustrating it, to long fingering it and to delaying it. Thank God, we have this Minister because she is the lassie that will stop that little game. I appeal to her to keep that monitored.

Preliminary and preparatory work on the metro has already been commenced by the late light rail project office of CIE. I hope it is given urgency because I am worried about some of the people against whom we had to fight to get the thing in the first place. The Minister must not let them put the brakes on or allow it to be put on the long finger. That would be a disaster.

I am delighted with the prominence given to public private partnerships. The Minister will [966] remember that back in 1996 this is what I was saying. I am not going to take the credit, I was simply throwing snowballs made by other people. My instinct was always that we must go for an underground, but we lacked the technical resources. The Minister has met the people involved in the integrated proposal, Rudi Monaghan and Cormac Rabbitte. She will be as sorry as I am to hear that Rudi Monaghan is seriously ill. I hope the Minister will be encouraged by this debate and encouraged that the proposal, in which she was so instrumental, is taking a significant step forward with this Bill.

I have read the Bill, though not perhaps with sufficient attention to all the technical details, and I have also read the explanatory memorandum. In the memorandum the metro scarcely merits a mention and I am not sure that it is mentioned in the Bill at all. I would like to see specific mention and copper fastening of the metro, even if only to provide an outline sketch, a hook on which to hang the practicalities of the metro. It is in the Minister's speech but it is damned difficult to find it anywhere else.

Where it does come in is in the question of public private partnerships, both in terms of the Minister's speech and the consultation paper for new institutional arrangements for land use and transport in the greater Dublin area. It is referred to there, and that is certainly welcomed, but in the principal body of this document it is not given any real mention at all. We are told a railway procurement agency will be established by statute to procure the implementation of defined rail infrastructure and other transport projects, principally on a PPP basis. The agency will have to act in a way that is consistent with the land use and transportation strategy and within the market regulatory framework determined by the strategic body. However, the metro is not specifically mentioned at that point. Perhaps it is just the result of my experience in trying to promote the idea of an underground. The Minister will be aware that, in a very useful debate some years ago, we in this House opened up its possibility.

While I am at it I permit myself the aside that one of the things we should look at as early as possible is the location of the stations. Though it is a minutely parochial point, I hope there is one at the northern end of O'Connell Street, partly for the James Joyce Centre. Imagine how marvellous it would be to get off a plane at Dublin Airport and get right into the centre of the city, not just to the southside. The southside will probably be favoured in this as in all other matters. Somebody from America who has booked into the Gresham, a very fine hotel, wants to be able to get into an underground at the airport and come out almost opposite its door. I even have a name for the Minister, the James Joyce station. They do it in Paris on the metro where they have the Victor Hugo and others.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  What about the Bertie Ahern station?

[967]Mr. Ryan:  The Senator should show a bit of erudition. He pronounced Hugo incorrectly.

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  The Minister should not worry, it is just Senator Ryan's inferiority complex rising to the surface again. Next thing, he will be telling her about how Fianna Fáil has changed since his day.

Mr. Ryan:  My inferiority complex is well known. Everybody knows about it. It was well advertised—

Mr. Norris: Information on David P.B. Norris  Zoom on David P.B. Norris  It is well known. It would be a wonderful idea to honour someone on the north side of Dublin and close to the Joyce centre. It is only an accident that it is also close to my house.

As regards public-private partnerships, the consultation paper states that it is proposed to establish a separate statutory body, the Railway Procurement Agency, which will have responsibility for procuring and negotiating public transport public-private partnerships in possible areas, such as metro, light rail, new suburban railway infrastructure and integrated ticketing. I am delighted that for the first time metro is listed first. I presume it will be groups, such as the Mitsui Corporation, which will be involved. The Minister will remember that I said that there would be a queue of people interested in tendering for such public-private partnerships. Some of the self-appointed experts dismissed this out of hand and said that it was not the case. We knew, however, that there were people interested and I understand there are still a number of groups interested in tendering for these partnerships.

I welcome the fact that a separate agency will be established in this area. It is important that it is established properly and efficiently and that it has the right personnel. Some of the elements in our existing transport networks have shown themselves to be incapable. We need new blood. I support the Minister who has gone into the marketplace to get it.

The explanatory and financial memorandum outlines the main purposes of the Bill. These are to:

(i)establish a new independent, commercial, statutory public body to be known as the Railway Procurement Agency whose main function will be the procurement of new railway infrastructure;

(ii)allow private sector participation in the construction, operation and maintenance of new railways;

(iii)repeal the Transport (Dublin Light Rail) Act, 1996, and re-enact its provisions, in a modified form, to provide a single statutory railway order procedure; and

(iv)provide for the regulation of light railways when running on-street.

I wish the metro had been mentioned because that is important. Perhaps it was not technically [968] feasible to do so. The main purposes of the Bill are clearly established, particularly when read in conjunction with section 11 which outlines three main functions. It states:

(a)to secure the provision of, or to provide, such railway infrastructure as may be determined from time to time by the Minister;

(b)to enter into agreements with other persons in order to secure the provision of such railway infrastructure whether by means of a concession, joint venture, public private partnership or any other means; and

(c)to acquire and facilitate the development of land adjacent to any railway works subject to an application for a railway order under this Act where such acquisition and development contributes to the economic viability of the said railway works.

When read in conjunction with the explanatory and financial memorandum and the land consultation document, the Government's policy is clear and extremely logical.

There are areas of difficulties, such as public consultation and planning procedures. I have been told that the principal difficulty in accelerating the programme in order that these new transport mechanisms will be in place within a reasonable amount of time is the planning delays. This must be looked at. Everyone must have the right to safeguard their own interests. However, inordinate delays which lead to enormous snags for the rest of the community should not be permitted. I heard someone say on the wireless the other day that he was looking for £7 million compensation for his little house on the north side of the city – I cannot remember the exact district – because of these type of works. It was a corporation house which was bought for £10,000. People's attitudes are amazing. This type of thing holds up developments ad nauseam. I do not want to have to wait until 2012 to get on an underground train in this city and do not see why we should have to. We should put our backs into trying to get the situation pushed forward as rapidly as possible, while allowing for people's democratic right to make their case if their property rights or their enjoyment of their houses are being interfered with.

One cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs. I love trees but note that one of the provisions is to allow trees to be felled, lopped and removed. I hope this will be done sensitively and we must watch to ensure that happens. However, I recognise the fact that even people who believe it is important to have an environment in which there are green spaces and trees are prepared to accept that some trees must go. I am prepared to accept that there will be major disruption. That is the reason it is courageous of the Government to take it on. I hope I have proved in some of the previous debates that because of the new techniques and advances in tunnel building the disruption caused by the creation of the metro or [969] underground system will be less than the Luas, but it will still be there. I made it clear in 1996 that I knew there would be disruption. Even if Luas had been scrapped and we had gone for a full underground system and nothing else, there would be considerable disruption and the people who proposed it would be blamed. There will be always be people who want to bellyache and only see the disruption. They only see the short-term nuisance; they do not see the long-term gain. That is one of the things which has held up progress in the transport area because, for political reasons, few Governments have had the foresight or the altruism to take on a scheme which would undoubtedly cause disruption. There will be complaints and articles in the newspapers.

At last the Government has the money to do it. There will be overruns, but there have already been projected overruns on Luas. There were huge overruns on the DART. That is the nature of the game. At this time in the development of the country and of Dublin as a capital city, we are entitled to expect a first rate transport system, partly because, above everything else, we can afford it. I remember at the end of lengthy arguments and discussion with the principal antagonists to the underground system they said that they proposed an underground system in the beginning and knew it was the best system. However, they were told that they could not do it because of the money and that was the reason they committed themselves to the on-street tram vehicles. They had such an emotional commitment to the trams alone that they were incapable of regearing themselves to take on board the fact that one can have an underground system as well.

It is vital that the system is properly integrated and that people can go from one system to another. I know the Minister has tried to incorporate this. We do not want self-contained units with no meshing. We need a system where people can move easily by either one means of transport or a combination of means of transport from any point in the city.

The Bill is a significant advance. I would have liked greater concentration on the metro, but I presume legislation will follow which will deal specifically with it. I urge the Minister to use her clear and undoubted intelligence, her commitment and her energy to ensure the metro project is not sidelined and that it is fast-tracked, to use a metaphor which is appropriate to the transport circumstance, in order that we can all enjoy a cleaner and better city in which it is easier for the citizens to move around.

I am in favour of public transport but there must also be a place for the car. It is a mistake for the public authorities to show antagonism toward the private motor vehicle, as Dublin Corporation is now doing. This will only disillusion citizens and it will lead ultimately to road rage. What about those who live in cities? Public policy has been directed towards bringing people back to live in the inner cities, yet the large new apartment blocks have no provision for car parking.

[970] If Dublin Corporation was serious about transport policy, it would do something about its new 850-place car park for Dublin Corporation staff. The corporation is attempting to put everybody else off the roads but it is happy enough to keep using cars itself. I doubt if many of those vehicles have more than one passenger in them on their way to the Civic Offices.

Mr. Glennon: Information on Jim Glennon  Zoom on Jim Glennon  I welcome the Minister to the House and congratulate her and her officials on the marvellous progress that has been made over recent years in the development of various transport initiatives, not only in the Dublin area but around the country. It is a sad indication of the state of the national rail network that when the Minister was appointed to her Department four years ago, it was necessary to immediately invest £400 million to render our rail network safe. It says much for the lack of investment in the preceding century that such an investment was necessary. To the best of my knowledge, from 1900 to 2000 not one mile of new rail track was laid while over the same period several hundred miles of track were lifted, to the regret of all concerned. There is no more striking example of this practice in the Dublin area than the lifting of the Harcourt Street line.

That mistakes were made in the transport policy of successive Governments since the foundation of the State is agreed by all sides. If any lesson is to be learned from that, it is that foresight and vision are vital to proper planning. At a time when the resources are available to invest in major capital projects, we must look further ahead. We should not simply be content to make up lost ground but must also try to envisage the situation for future generations. The lead-in time for the implementation of any capital investment programme such as we are discussing is a lengthy one, for a variety of reasons. However, we should, where possible, look beyond that.

It is important that we put this debate in historical context. The arrival of the railways in Ireland in the 19th century was mainly due to the industrial revolution in Britain. The first line in Ireland ran from Westland Row to what was then called Kingstown. That line was soon followed by the development of the Dublin to Drogheda line and then a further line to Belfast, and in due course the line to Rosslare. The remainder of the system developed from that eastern line.

It is interesting to look back at that history at a time when public transport has become a matter of hot public debate and see that it is over one century back that the major investments were made. Now, having suffered the century of the motor car – if I can refer to the 20th century as such – the cycle is turning again. The novelty of the motor car appears to be waning. That is putting it mildly from the point of view of those who sit in traffic jams as they commute in and out of Dublin on a daily basis. The mood of the public is moving towards a return to public transport. It is remarkable to look at the progress made over [971] the previous century, the revolution brought to so many lives by the motor car. Now, for a significant number of people, public transport is back in demand. It is good that is the case, but also unfortunate in that the problems caused by lack of investment are now only too clearly seen.

The Bill debated here refers entirely to the greater Dublin area. However, the lack of infrastructure is not a problem confined to greater Dublin or the Pale. It is one which requires investment around the country. We should not talk of merely closing the gap, but look to the future and ensure that there is a viable system put in place to enable development. This should occur with a minimum of disruption and, to use Senator Norris's analogy, with relatively few eggs broken to make the omelette.

I wish the Minister and her officials well in their work. Progress is already visible on the streets of Dublin and this is heartening. I refer particularly to the huge advances made at the Red Cow roundabout on the M50. All concerned are to be congratulated. I have a particular interest in the issue as in my home area, north County Dublin, from where I travel daily to the city, the majority of people are dependent on public transport to get to and from their work. To say that it is an area in need of attention is a gross understatement. The vast majority of the working population in north County Dublin commute, particularly towards the city and the airport, on a daily basis. The lack of infrastructure is a major handicap and a daily debilitation of quality of life for thousands of people in north County Dublin.

At a function today, the Taoiseach referred to the 1980s as having been the decade of debt reduction, to the 1990s as having been the decade of unemployment reduction and to the current decade as the decade of infrastructural development. I could not agree more, and the most basic infrastructure of all is transport. Other investment would be wasted if transport was not sufficiently well established. There is no point investing billions of pounds in the health services, developing our third level education system, and attracting major overseas investment in industry if our population cannot move from their homes to their work, education and hospitals. We must have the transport infrastructure in place to render other infrastructure investments viable. Significant priority investment in transport infrastructure is an absolute necessity.

We have before us elaborate plans for investment in this infrastructure in the Dublin area, and this is to be welcomed. I would argue strongly, however, for the prioritisation of investment at a level above and beyond what is currently envisaged. The plan, A Platform for Change, launched in September last year, outlines a strategy which will operate for the period 2000 to 2016. As stated, work is already under way on this plan. However, since it was published, other developments have taken place.

[972] I wish again to refer to Senator Norris's contribution and the story he related about his secretary's experience in travelling to work this morning from my home town, Skerries. The events outlined by the Senator are, unfortunately, all too common. At the risk of being accused of being parochial, I suggest that anyone who looks at the colour sketches in the various plans relating to the development of transport infrastructure in the Dublin area will see that the area between Malahide and Gormanston has been forgotten. These sketches show spur lines running to Maynooth, Athy, Navan—

Mr. Ryan:  The Senator should not say anything about Athy.

Mr. Glennon: Information on Jim Glennon  Zoom on Jim Glennon  —and other towns in each county adjoining Dublin. At the same time, however, the plan contains no investment for the area between Gormanston and Malahide in which Gormanston railway station – only 23 miles from Dublin on the Dublin to Belfast rail line – is located. Funding for development in this area is worthy of prioritisation.

It is interesting that a train can travel from Drogheda to Connolly station in 29 minutes but that it takes twice that length of time for a train to travel from Gormanston, which is situated ten miles nearer to Dublin, to the same station. Senator Norris's secretary's experience is, unfortunately, all too common, but it serves to emphasise the necessity for the investment to which I refer. I am a reasonably regular user of the train service but, unfortunately, it is simply unreliable and probably functions at only 20% to 30% of its potential.

The train service is absolutely essential because people must be able to travel to and from work. I accept that we have been spoiled in the past by the lack of overload on our roads and railways. At present, however, both our roads and railways are completely overloaded. There is a need to take action, preferably through investment in public transport, in order to rectify matters.

I take this opportunity to suggest that there are a number of areas which, in terms of making investments above and beyond those outlined in the plan, are worthy of prioritisation. The Minister is aware of my views in relation to the necessity for a second bridge over the River Liffey to service the railway lines. Provision for such a bridge is contained in the plan, but it will be some time before it becomes a reality. The bridge is pivotal, crucial, vital – it is whatever Latin scholars refer to as a sine qua non. Without it there will be nothing.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  The Senator will have to consult the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Dempsey, about the bridge to which he refers.

Mr. Glennon: Information on Jim Glennon  Zoom on Jim Glennon  I intend to do so. The bridge to which I refer is an absolute essential. The loop[973] line bridge over the River Liffey dictates the volume on our railway lines – not only the line to which I refer but also all others running south into the city. It is simply not acceptable that the line to which I refer should still be carrying the same capacity it carried over 100 years ago. At present, 12 trains per hour can travel over that bridge in a southerly direction and, equally, 12 trains per hour can make the journey in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, for those living on the north side, the problem is that there are four major lines feeding into those 12 slots heading south while there is only one line feeding into the 12 slots heading north. There is, therefore, only one quarter of the capacity available for each of the lines heading into the city from the north. That is a major difficulty.

I assure the Minister that her colleague, the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, is fully aware of this problem and will continue to be made aware of it because I do not intend to let matters lie. The bridge to which I refer must be built. I acknowledge that provision for it is contained in the plan but it is worthy of prioritisation.

Another area worthy of prioritisation is that of the acquisition of properties in areas immediately adjoining rail lines and railway stations. People's ability to avail of public transport is being obstructed by the lack of auxiliary facilities, such as car parking facilities – better known as “park and ride” facilities. There is a serious lack of integrated commuter bus services to and from railway stations and an absence of car parking facilities immediately adjoining those stations. I recall that, as a young boy, I rode my bicycle to the railway station, parked it there and travelled on the train to the city. At Skerries and other railway stations 12, 14 or up to 20 little huts were provided to allow people to park their bicycles. Regular commuters used to rent a hut, lock their bikes there during the day and collect them in the evening. Obviously, the era of the automobile led to changes and the huts have disappeared. However, additional car parking spaces have not, to any great degree, been provided.

There are major problems in housing estates on the Skerries to Dublin railway line, which are being illegally used as car parks. Emergency services – such as the fire brigade and ambulance services – are being handicapped in terms of gaining access to houses as a result of this illegal car parking. I am aware that, in the depths of last winter, one house in Skerries was obliged to go without home heating oil for five days because cars parked by commuters using the railway station had jammed up the access roads leading into the estate to such an extent that nobody could get in or out. God only knows what would have happened if the fire brigade or ambulance services had needed to gain entry to the estate.

The matters I have addressed are worthy of serious consideration. It is the Minister's intention to propose amendments on Committee Stage to the effect that the agency's functions will relate [974] to the metro system and the light rail network only. I urge her to reconsider the position in the interim. The stretch of line to which I refer is the forgotten piece of the jigsaw. The area in which it is situated is part of the greater Dublin area and much closer to the centre of the city than some of the areas dealt with in this praiseworthy plan. While geographically it is much more adjacent to the city, the area is much further away in terms of the time it takes to travel to and from it. The question of providing funding for the rail line servicing this area is worthy of reappraisal. I urge the Minister to carry out such an appraisal. As Senator Norris stated, one cannot make omelettes without breaking eggs.

I congratulate the Minister on her courage in bringing forward such a radical plan. Something must be done and this is the time to do it. If we purchase the land to which I refer and develop this most essential infrastructure, which is fundamental to all other infrastructural development, we will have spent our money well. Senator Norris's omelette might take some time to cook, but it will be all the more enjoyable to taste when it is finished.

Mr. Ryan:  Ministers should not be flattered too much as it is probably bad for them. It is, however, always a pleasure to have the Minister in attendance because, while she might argue so vigorously as to almost intimidate, she does hear what one has to say. She never ignores a person although she might beat him or her over the head for what he or she has to say. I have experienced Ministers whose technique is to pretend not to hear what one has to say and to leave it out of their replies. It is a much more frustrating experience to have a Minister in attendance who will not deal with the issues than it is to have a Minister who deals with them vigorously and vocally. The latter is much easier to deal with and it is for that reason it is a pleasure to see the Minister.

It is strange to wonder how we got to where we are in this crisis in transport. There is an excuse to a degree that what happened happened suddenly. Listening to the Government, one would imagine the economic boom began in June 1997 or a week later when the Government changed. In reality, a number of factors were involved, among them a considerable consensus about the fundamentals of economic growth. We did not have ideologically different Governments changing the education system inside out every time there was a change of Government. Neither had we ideologically driven Governments bent on nationalisation or privatisation, at least until now, a matter to which I will return. There was also a consensus about the use of foreign investment. The upshot is that we have had the signs of considerable economic growth for the best part of nine years. I heard the person who will soon be Italian foreign minister using us as an argument for the European Union to leave them alone for a while and he mentioned the nine or ten year period.

[975] Two Governments straddled this period and, therefore, I am, to a degree, fireproofing myself. However, we sat on this problem for the best part of seven years and watched it worsen. The most basic principle of science I know is that, short of a nuclear reaction, one cannot make matter less. To put it in simple terms, one cannot fit a pint in a half pint glass or a litre in a half litre glass. We sat and watched an explosion in the numbers of cars and people at work. It was wonderful, and the greatest achievement the country has had in its history, much more than our affluence, is the fact that such a huge number are at work. The most socially progressive thing that can be done is to get people working in decently paid jobs. It is the thing which will, more than anything else, change society. However, we sat and watched and waited until the crisis literally hit us between the eyes. It hit Dublin first but we should never for a second imagine that the crisis in public transport is exclusive to Dublin or the greater Dublin area.

It is difficult to comprehend that we sat through a deliberate neglect of the railway service dating back through a succession of Governments. The carriages on the train service I use almost every week between Cork and Dublin, which are among the best Iarnród Éireann has, are 20 years old. Imagine driving cars which are 20 years old. I am aware that Bus Éireann has a good line in using 20 year old buses to transport schoolchildren, but do not imagine many of us approve of this. We sat and let this neglect happen for 20 years. A good number of eminent economists, one of whom, Seán Barrett, was placed on the board of CIE by the founder of Senator Quill's party, told us that there was no future for railways. In Seán Barrett's case, he said so because railways did not compete. I will return to the economics of the railway system. The Department of Finance loved it and there was clearly, through a succession of Governments, a resistance on the part of that Department to the idea of investment in infrastructure, public transport infrastructure especially and public transport generally.

From that came the first major railway crisis which is that the railway system has turned out to be profoundly unsafe. It is a little disingenuous to tell the public that the huge amount of money being invested in the railways will produce a spectacular improvement in what the public sees. Most of it will go to ensure the public is safe.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  That is the reason I am investing it.

Mr. Ryan:  No one disputes that, but we need much more if we are to see a transformation in the service. What we will get from current investment is a reduced risk of some of us getting killed, which is very welcome, but it will not make any difference to those who use railways if we do not have better railways. There is a difference and the Minister can argue about the details. The decision [976] to rectify the appallingly unsafe condition of many railways is a correct one. However, even if all that is done, there will not be an obvious huge difference in the railways unless more money is spent on them. That said, I recognise that we are making progress.

The trade unions in the public transport sector are not doing very much to help. It is too trivial to describe it as an inter-union dispute. I remember a Mr. Walsh, formerly of Hibernian Insurance—

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Eamonn Walsh.

Mr. Ryan:  —a famous memo of whose was leaked concerning the attitudes of management in CIE to its workforce and concerning the quality of canteen and other facilities available to workers. It was obviously one of the greatest shocks of his business career for a person who came from the private sector. While the trade unions need a much more enlightened view of how to deal with the public and public transport, they come from a situation of profound neglect and indifference, apparently on the part of management.

It is astonishing what we never did, such as there being no rail connection between the national airport and the centre of the capital of the country and our not thinking about it until recently when it will cost a fortune to acquire the land to do it. I am aware that it will be done at some stage and, like Senator Norris, I hope we are not in the world of aspiration and that these are firm decisions with capital resources allocated to them. It is ludicrous that it is not possible to travel on a rapid, frequent and comfortable rail service from various places in the city centre to the airport. The extraordinary services from Gatwick and Heathrow airports to the centre of London are examples of efficiently run railways which make a huge difference to the public and reduce one of the great consumers of taxi services. I get the feeling from talking to taxi drivers that they would be happy at this stage to see the back of Dublin Airport. Where they once saw it as a major source of funds, they do not see it that way any more.

What is to be done? Much of what must be done will be in the medium to long term. While we have decided to focus on the long term and grin and bear it in the short term, an enormous amount could be done in terms of traffic management, especially in regulation. I am sick of the spectacle of intersections of major roads being blocked because people do not observe simple things like yellow boxes. I am tired of intersections of motorways, such as a roundabout on the M50, being blocked by the extra cars which shoot on after the lights have changed and which block everyone else. They all feed back into gridlock. They can be disposed of by proper enforcement of the law, as it stands, which involves personnel and a willingness to do it. While I do not have to suffer their ministrations, most people say the [977] introduction of clamping in Dublin has had a salutary effect on parking habits. Our reluctance to observe inconvenient regulations has been changed by that system. There is a need to enforce similar regulations in many areas.

Why can hackneys not use bus lanes in Dublin? Why can a service which has provided huge numbers of people with reasonably low cost transport not use bus lanes or turn left at the bottom of Dawson Street? Senator Quill and I were in a hackney recently whose driver was reprimanded by a garda for turning left there. What logic is there to these regulations in a city whose transport system is stretched to the limit? These can only be regulatory leftovers which have gone unnoticed.

We want a public transport system which is integrated, fast, frequent, reliable and safe. I have no ideological obsession with how that should be provided. I merely wish to be sure that no one else is attempting to enforce an ideology. We want the system which can best provide the conditions I have mentioned, the most important of which is safety.

The public transport system must also be cheap. By this I do not mean merely not dear. The successful transport systems I have seen throughout Europe are comparatively cheap. This means they are heavily subsidised. It is impossible to run a profitable public transport system on prices which would make the system attractive to the public.

We do not have time for a long debate on environmental economics but it is relevant to this question. What are the environmental costs of private transport compared to those of public transport? It is difficult to measure these things, although an interesting economist called David Pearce has made efforts in this direction. If one contrasts even the most global estimate of the environmental damage caused by our obsession with the private car, with the environmental savings gained from a greater use of public transport, the comparison is made more meaningful if a value is placed on quality of life. It does not matter how one estimates that value. If the cost of damage to people's health and quality of life from the use of private cars is calculated, a completely different economic argument can be made. Such a cost cannot be estimated as precisely as the price of eggs or milk. Nevertheless, the argument for subsidising public transport is overwhelming. It will be more difficult for the Minister to persuade the Department of Finance to provide money for a long-term commitment to public transport than for a single capital project, but commitment to an ongoing public transport system is more important than large capital projects.

I do not object to public private partnerships, concessions or joint ventures if they work for the benefit of those for whom the service is being provided. I am not convinced that the private sector is more efficient. Those of us who have lived at the receiving end of a private sector monopoly might agree that they are worse than public ser[978] vice monopolies. I am thinking, in particular, of cable television companies. I contrast the service they provide with that provided by the ESB, which is a public service and, effectively, still a monopoly. Public private partnerships must be cost efficient but they must achieve cost efficiency in a transparent way and clear performance criteria must be laid down for them. This is currently lacking in public private partnerships. The Eastlink and Westlink toll bridges are operated by public private partnerships. If a partnership is given a cash cow such as the two toll bridges, cost criteria should be laid down for it. One of the criteria ought to be the length of queues at toll booths. One should not allow someone to build a bridge across the Liffey on the busiest motorway in Ireland and have motorists wait 20 minutes for the privilege of going across. If an operator cannot provide a service which makes things better for people it should not be providing the service. This rule should apply to all the Minister's new ideas. I do not object to any of them, provided they meet criteria which are clearly focused on making life better for the consumer.

Experiments in privatisation in terms of the railways in Britain have left the public with the worst of both worlds. Fares have increased dramatically and co-ordination of services has disappeared. It is a salutary experience to walk around a British railway station looking for an information desk. Each railway company runs a different concession from a different platform and no one can give one all the information one needs. Let us not be driven towards adopting systems which do not work because someone has an ideological preference for them. The majority of public opinion in Britain favours renationalisation of the railways.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  John Prescott told me he wished it had never happened.

Mr. Ryan:  I am sure that is true. Most people in Britain wish it had never happened. Let us use what works, provided we have a clear view of what that is. What works is getting more at a price which is attractive to consumers. Rail fares have risen in Britain, efficiency has got worse and accountability has gone. At the same time many senior people in the privatised utilities are being paid salaries five times those of their predecessors in the nationalised railways which provided at least as good, if not a better service. I do not have to remind the Minister of the Californian electricity experience. If I were the Minister for Public Enterprise with responsibility for deregulation of the electricity service, I would be very nervous about pursuing any course unless I knew it would work.

I do not object to having a variety of arrangements provided they work, are driven by clear and transparent criteria and have been proven to do things better. In my place of work, the Cork Institute of Technology, I have seen two public private partnerships. I have been impressed by [979] the speed with which things proceeded from the ministerial announcement that the nautical college in Ringaskiddy could go ahead to the stage of a contract being signed. This worked extraordinarily well compared to the painstaking process of getting agreement with the Department of Education and Science for similar projects. There is much to be said for public-private partnerships, provided they are transparent and above board.

The more I live in politics the more I realise that the public needs the political system to defend it. I am less and less happy with agencies and bodies which are not accountable to the Oireachtas. Senators repeatedly raise questions about the National Roads Authority and are told, correctly, by the Cathaoirleach that the Minister for the Environment and Local Government is not responsible for the NRA. The authority appears before the joint committee once every six months, makes its presentation and everyone thinks it is wonderful.

What can I do about the insanity of the current position of the National Roads Authority which has discovered that the main Dublin-Cork road through County Kildare is too crowded and has decided to make an alternative route through my home town? The junction at which traffic from the main Dublin-Cork road arrives is ten metres wide, at most. Nobody thought of restricting it to light vehicles only with the result that the road in front of my mother's house now thunders and rattles with heavy vehicles and cars all day, every day. This has occurred because the National Roads Authority decided to send the traffic that way, assuming there was zero cost involved. All this investment is wide of the mark, however, because it is not a case of zero cost. I am saying this for the benefit of the Department of Finance as much as for the Minister. I do not know if my own party's spokespersons approve of the metro project, but I have to say that I do.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I think they do, yes.

Mr. Ryan:  Grudgingly, probably.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I do not know whether it is grudgingly, but I think they do.

Mr. Ryan:  Well I do. The tragedy is that we left all this so late.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Yes.

Mr. Ryan:  This has been my view on it and I have said so from the beginning. The Minister will be presented with nonsense; people will show her how road transport is more efficient than rail and will add in the Iarnród Éireann subsidy. The truth is, however, that if a road haulier had to pay the real cost of what he or she was doing in terms of environmental damage, in addition to the motorway construction and maintenance—

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Yes.

[980]Mr. Ryan:  —with which he or she has to deal, the cost factor would change and rail transport would become much more attractive.

The Minister should be wary of consultants. I read a newspaper report about somebody she engaged to advise her about overcrowding on the Arrow service. They advised that fare increases would solve the problem. It was the most idiotic nonsense and I would advise the Minister not to pay them.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I did not engage them. Iarnród Éireann did.

Mr. Ryan:  It was the most idiotic advice. It was a classic bit of consultants' work. They looked at one little problem and would solve it by putting twice as many cars on the road in no time.

It is a pity that we are so late. It is time we looked at other cities around the country, particularly Cork, which will have a population of half a million in another 20 years. Will we have to wait until the transport situation becomes as bad as it now is in Dublin and then retrofit a proper public transport system, or are we going to plan it now and build it? Some have told me that roads are being built which, if they were left with a bit more space, could have light rail running between them.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  Yes.

Mr. Ryan:  We are not doing that, however. This is huge issue and one for which we should now plan. Even if we cannot build it all now, let us leave the possibility to plan future developments into the equation. Otherwise we will have the same ridiculous, overly expensive solution being proposed in 20 years time.

Minister for Public Enterprise (Mrs. O'Rourke): Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I thank all those who contributed to the debate, including Senators Caffrey, Liam Fitzgerald, Norris, Glennon and Ryan. As always, debates in this House are reasoned, instructive and interesting. I thank Senator Ryan for acknowledging that I genuinely do listen. I find the debates on legislation, both in this House and the Lower House, fascinating. Views in this House are expressed in a much less confrontational way, which is a mark of honour for the Seanad. In Dáil Éireann one hears views and ideas from people all around the country. Many things can strike one in listening to such debates. Matters I recall in discussions on radio and television or in preparing legislation come from things that have been said to me during debates in the Dáil and Seanad. I cannot understand Ministers who do not pay attention to the debate being held. Apart from anything else it is very interesting. It must be terribly boring to put one's head down and not listen.

Mr. Ryan:  I wish the Minister was in charge of broadcasting.

[981]Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I will not go into all that. Senator Caffrey proposed a western point of view – as he always does in dealing with legislation – which is interesting to hear. He asked the reason the rail procurement agency could not be given to CIE. Our ideas on that matter are clear. A rail procurement agency would be swifter in doing its business concerning projects such as the Luas and metro. That is not to decry, however, the long years of service that CIE has given.

Senator Caffrey mentioned that bit by bit during the years CIE got out of the haulage business through bad service which included stopping work and leaving leaving goods that had to be delivered. For a number of years when in my early twenties, I was a licensed haulage operator along with my brother, Paddy. We bought a plate for a huge amount of money and ran services between Athlone and other areas. That continued for about 14 years until the beginning of European transit operations.

Senator Caffrey asked about the running of Luas. We had a competition to decide who would run it and approximately 20 companies applied. They were whittled down to five. CIE was one of the applicants. An outside group decided on the whittling down from which CIE did not emerge.

Senator Caffrey said that liberalisation was good and I agree with him. He also mentioned inter-union rivalry in the west. Last year, in particular, the west had a huge dose of ILDA, if Senators will excuse me being brisk about it, but that is exactly what it was. The rail lines were held up by the dispute. It is heartening to hear the general consensus on public-private partnerships which the Senator strongly endorsed.

I also thank Senator Liam Fitzgerald for his contribution. He said, quite rightly, as did Senator Caffrey, that this legislation is significant, although not major. On the face of it, I accept what the Senator said. At the same time, however, it marks a huge departure from what would have been an earlier way of doing things and so, in that way, it is significant.

The Senator anticipated matters about which Senator Norris also spoke. He mentioned raucous commentators –‘raucous' is a lovely word – and young people in their first or second jobs who are keen to have a car to show off as a status symbol. They want to be part of the general modern tempo of life.

The Senator also mentioned the criticism made when we announced that part of the Luas project was going underground. I was amazed by that debate which I remember both here and in the Dáil. Several people said: “You'd let a woman go underground?” which was the daftest thing I had ever heard because women have been using the underground systems in London, Paris, Moscow and elsewhere for the past 100 years. The idea that, in an age of equality, one would not let a woman go underground was a negation of the opening up of society. The Senator rightly praised Padraic White who heads up the advisory group [982] to the railway inspectorate, for which safety is a priority.

Senator Norris had a right to crow.

Mr. Ryan:  He would anyway.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I do not know enough about him in that respect, but he certainly had a right to crow on this matter. I remember the debate which Senator Avril Doyle took in this House. I was not the shadow spokesperson in that area but I remember the debate. He strongly supported an underground element to Luas and the notion of a metro. At the time there were procedures involved whereby it was said it could not, would not and should not happen. However, it will happen. The Senator called for the speedy implementation of the metro and referred, as did Senator Liam Fitzgerald, to public private partnerships. I am sorry to hear Rudi Monaghan is not well and I offer him my best wishes because he is one of those behind underground public transport and metros in city centres.

Senator Norris claimed there was not sufficient reference in the Bill to the metro, but we will introduce an amendment define “metro” and copperfasten it. He suggested that the proposed station in O'Connell Street should be called the James Joyce station. Metro will go to contract and its objectives are quite clear. Senator Norris referred to inordinate delays. I fully agree with him and other Senators who mentioned the need for integration of public transport whereby one can easily transfer from one form to another.

Senator Glennon referred to the historical position regarding railways. In the 20th century no new track was laid and a great deal of track was taken up. Rail transport was the great white hope of the 19th century. There was a great deal to be said for colonisation in that respect as investment in rail transport was secured.

Mr. Ryan:  The Minister makes that statement on the 75th anniversary of Fianna Fáil.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  I only referred to public transport. Senator Glennon quite rightly mentioned his own area in north county Dublin where there is a lack of infrastructure and people are hampered on a daily basis. He referred to the capital projects in the health and education spheres in the area which will fail if people cannot get from A to B in a reasonable time. He is from Skerries and echoed Senator Norris's comments about his Skerries experience.

Senator Glennon said the Malahide to Gormanston stretch of countryside had been ignored and investment in public transport is needed there. He referred to the need for a second bridge to service the M50 and a second loopline bridge on the River Liffey because the rail lines travelling through the north side of the city are only operating at one quarter capacity. Pat Mangan in my Department and the officials present with me are aware of that and there are plans afoot. [983] However, the problem lies with the speed at which they can be implemented. I appreciate the Senator's comments and will get back to him with the detail of those plans, which have been drafted in conjunction with the Department of the Environment and Local Government.

The acquisition of property at railway stations and the provision park and ride facilities highlights another anomaly. Many of the issues raised by Senators Glennon and Ryan are the preserve of the Department of the Environment and Local Government, but there is a need for a transport Department which will deal with rail and road transport because they are interlinked. I will make that proposal when we produce our general election manifesto in 12 months because it makes a great deal of sense.

Mr. Ryan:  The Minister will have a busy summer.

Mrs. O'Rourke: Information on Mary O'Rourke  Zoom on Mary O'Rourke  There will not be an election in the autumn unless all of us suffer sunstroke if we get the good weather we are supposed to throughout the summer.

I hail from a railway town, Athlone, which is a major crossing point. Senator Glennon related how people used to ride to railway stations on their bicycles. They parked them in individual sheds for which they had a lock and key and continued their journey on the train. Those sheds have disappeared and there are not enough park and ride facilities at railway stations. Nearby housing estates are clogged up with cars which are parked there illegally and which block ambulances and other emergency services from getting through.

I thank all Senators for their welcome. It is a lovely sign of respect. Nobody ever thanks one for coming to the Dáil but it is nice trait of this House. Senator Ryan correctly said the public transport problem straddled a number of Governments. The expansion of the economy came rushing at us with annual growth rates in excess of 7% since 1993. We saw it all coming but we waited until it hit us in the face to address public transport. The growing economy has meant increased numbers of cars and congestion, which necessitates the provision of more public transport.

Change takes time and, unfortunately, the measures we have taken will take time. One cannot go to a supermarket and pick up 20 DART carriages. They are not sold like that as they take two to three years to produce once they are ordered. The implementation of transport plans and necessary legislation take time and in the meantime, absolutely correctly, there has been growing impatience regarding proper public transport provision.

Officials in the Department of Finance find it very difficult. When I became a member of Cabinet for the first time in 1987 the Department of Finance made a proposal for the railway line to [984] end at Athlone. It was about to re-engage in its favourite pastime of taking up rail lines, which had been the case in previous decades. Thankfully, that did not happen. I pay tribute to the Minister for Finance because he has been generous with his purse in regard to public transport.

Senator Ryan felt our strategies were for the medium to long term and that there were no short-term strategies. However, the provision of extra carriages and safety measures which have been taken are part of our short-term strategy. There has been significant change in bus transport. There will be 300 new buses in Dublin by the end of the year, all of which will have low floors and will be accessible by disabled people. New buses have been provided in Cork, Limerick and Waterford. The provision of such buses was a short-term strategy because people would not use the older vehicles, many of which had become belching Bessies producing high levels of emissions.

I agree with Senator Ryan's comments on public transport integration, safety, speed and cost. It is amazing that countries which were subject to the much derided Stalinist rule have marvellous public transport systems. One can travel anywhere underground or overground on their systems, which are fast, reliable, cheap and subsidised. People did not have cars and, therefore, a decent public transport system was necessary. We fell in love with motor cars and thought we would never have enough of them, with one, two, three or four in the driveway if it could hold them.

When I attend my round of talks with the Department of Finance each year, the officials are not interested in the environmental costs of decent public transport because, as Senator Ryan said, such costs cannot be quantified similar to buying a bag of sugar or a loaf of bread. I agree that, environmentally, it is enormously beneficial to be transported on a train from Cork, Skerries or Ballina to one's destination rather than to drive in one's car, which produces emissions, and be frustrated and befuddled with worry and tension.

On the question of the efficient use of capital resources and performance criteria, there will have to be performance criteria in respect of the public private partnerships. In regard to the Californian example, I talk about that on a daily basis. I smiled when I heard it mentioned because in the debate in the other House on the Nice summit, Deputies Noonan and Quinn spoke about the need to deregulate the electricity industry earlier than planned. That is what happened in California. They went at it bald-headed. They kept prices down and deregulated at an unbelievable rate, but what happened? They did not have the capacity to cope with that. California is a prime example for us.

Generally the PPPs can be worked through much quicker. I remember in schools there were many stages as one planned something and each stage took so long, so there are efficiencies as the [985] example of the Marine College in Cork highlights.

Senator Glennon talked about safety and I accept the point about the £400 million that was necessary just to make the lines safer. One could not put hand on heart and say there will never be an accident. That would be foolish. I remember the day Mary McAleese became President, it could have been a day of burials and lamentation throughout the land because of the train crash just beyond Knockcroghery in Roscommon. That train crashed at a point where there were very high embankments, which were laid 130 years ago, against which the train came to rest when it came off the line. The crash was not Iarnród Éireann's fault. The investment was not being put into that area. Those trains were safe because they were being run so slowly that if a crash happened, the train would come to a halt, but we were lucky the Knockcroghery crash happened at that point. Iarnród Éireann has a safe record and I commend it on that, although we will have a rail safety audit.

The first action I had to take as Minister was to initiate an independent rail safety study and implement its recommendations. One could not remain as a transport Minister if that had not been done. One could not have the responsibility. To this day there is a rule under the old legislation that the railway safety officer – we will bring railway safety legislation to this House in the autumn – has to inform the Minister immediately when there is an accident. When my telephone rings late at night or very early in the morning, I immediately assume there has been a rail crash. Thankfully, that is not often the case, although there are many sad cases of people committing suicide – I understand there was one recently in County Cork. Above everything else the safety of passengers is the main responsibility. I take the point that in tandem with that, we have to have better carriages, more and improved services and additional areas served, but the first priority was to make the rail line as safe as possible. I am sure all Cork Senators would agree with that. The LUTS study, which is ongoing with the local authorities and the results of which are awaited, will show us what needs to be done in the Cork region.

I am sorry for going on. I thank all Senators who contributed to the debate. As always, the views were informed, interesting and worth recording.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 22 May 2001.

Sitting suspended at 5.45 p.m. and resumed at 6 p.m.


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