Wednesday, 20 February 2008
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise this matter on the adjournment of the House. While I welcome the Minister for State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher, I am disappointed the Minister for Transport is not here. That is no reflection on the Minister of State, who knows exactly the situation in Donegal. He knows that one should be able to get on a train in Derry and arrive in Dublin. It is the people who live outside the general Donegal area that I would like to awaken to the fact that one can now physically get on a train in Derry and arrive in Dublin. However, there are difficulties with the line, particularly from Derry to Coleraine and there are difficulties with the lack of political will to resolve the issue.
I have been raising this issue since Deputy Mary O’Rourke was Minister for Transport, which is some time ago. I have been trying to get people to understand the concept of Dublin to Derry, not just Dublin to Belfast, as the full line. There have been great improvements on the Dublin to Belfast line. The Enterprise is a supreme service and investment in the Dublin to Belfast section of the line is continuing, which is to be welcomed. However, it is happening at the expense of the Belfast to Derry section of the line.
I ask the Minister of State to relay the facts to the Department of Transport and I challenge those involved in the North-South Ministerial Council, on both sides, to explain why they can talk about Dublin to Belfast but cannot talk about Dublin to Derry. I know that if it gets as far as Derry, we can then examine the possibility of bringing it back into Donegal. Others are talking about linking train services from the west to Donegal, ultimately linking, I would like to think, with the service in Derry.
Some may ask why I am not fighting the corner for Dublin to Donegal at this point. It is simply that results can be achieved very quickly on the section of the line to which I am referring. It has been recorded by Translink that more than 1 million passengers use the Derry to Belfast line. It has been recommended by consultants that £64 million be spent on the line. Out of the £64 million, £23.5 million has been promised to be spent on it. However, the actual figure earmarked is £12 million. This £12 million is to be used to upgrade the section from Ballymena to Coleraine. The line will be closed during this time and shuttle buses will be used for this route instead. Many people feel this could ultimately impact on the number of people using the service, but they do not want to stand in the way of progress.
The Minister for Regional Development in Northern Ireland, Mr. Conor Murphy stated that investment in the line from Coleraine to Derry is key. However, he also stated there is no money for this. The Northern lreland Government has £18 billion to be spent on infrastructure in the next ten years. In that context, why is there no money in the budget for upgrading the track?
The Minister says they must raise the money, and if they do so, the upgrade can be carried out in 2011. If the money is found it will mean the line will be closed again while repairs are carried out. Translink says it does not have the equipment or staff to upgrade the Ballymena to Coleraine section and the Derry to Coleraine section at the same time. However I have been led to believe that Iarnród Éireann has the necessary equipment and staff to do this and the equipment is currently lying idle in Dublin.
The Derry to Coleraine track is a jointed one, but what is needed is a welded one. New trains on this route cannot get up to speed, and some travel at speeds as low as 20 mph. That is one of the core problems. It is faster to take the bus from Derry to Dublin than it is to take the train.
At the last North-South Ministerial Council meeting in January, the possibility of both Governments coming together to buy trains for the Belfast to Derry route was raised and a decision will be made at the next meeting in May. I ask that the decision be taken, not only with regard to new trains but also with regard to the upgrading of the track because it has been proven that where improvements are made, they yield a significant increase in the numbers of people who use trains.
The ILEX regeneration board plans to build a new railway station in Ebrington. The chief executive of the ILEX board has taken on the demands of the Into The West group and has agreed to leave enough room to build a track across the Foyle to Donegal. This is a tran-jurisdictional corridor and is eligible for funding under the Tran European Network System, TENS. I ask the Department to confirm that this is the same funding body that funded the upgrading of a section of the Cork to Dublin line recently. Apparently, that upgrade was funded because it was stated it was on the Dublin, Cork, Belfast, Larne line. If that is the case, it is a scandal that the Minister for Regional Development in Northern Ireland cannot fight the corner for Derry to Belfast, as part of the Derry, Belfast, Dublin link. It is also a scandal that we are not using European funds that have been available for this for the past number of years and delivering what is needed.
I reiterate the point that this is not about a new train service, new planning, a new line or compulsory purchase orders on people’s lands. It is about a number of passing points for the existing train service and a matter of replacing a jointed train line with a welded one.
I would expect a negative answer or for this issue to be put on the long finger were it a complicated matter, such as the suggestion of an overall package of an all-island train service, but not at the level of complexity described. I am asking that the prevarication stop in respect of the current service and the two stations, York Street and Central Station. If it is good enough for the Cork-Dublin line, it is good enough for the north west.
When I raised this issue previously, people told me that there are flights to Derry and Carrickfinn, a planned road through Aughnacloy and bus services and asked me why I would want a train service. The childish argument would be that, if everyone else can have one, so can we. The north west needs access and infrastructural development and there is a simple answer. The amount of money is not significant in the scheme of things, with €64 million being the most required. Some €23 million has been promised and, a number of months ago, I attended the announcement at Stormont by Rev. Ian Paisley, MLA, of a further €12 million.
I am not asking for the impossible. It is no reflection on the Minister of State that the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, will have the facts when he returns to the North-South Ministerial Council, the issue I raised on the Order of Business. There are council meetings on education, health, transport and so on, but we are not getting feedback so that we can give our own feedback. European funding is available and I ask that it be spent in the north west.
Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher: Were the Minister in a position to attend the House, he would be present. That he is not present is no reflection on the House or the Senator, as he has another commitment. As we all know, matters on the Adjournment can be raised in the morning, but Ministers can have other commitments. I welcome the opportunity to respond to Senator Keaveney and the House on the Minister’s behalf.
Rail services to Derry are available via Belfast. The upgrading of Belfast-Derry rail services is a matter for the authorities in Northern Ireland. While it did not form part of the main agenda, the Minister mentioned it at the North-South Ministerial Council meeting last December and he understands that the service is being considered by the Northern Ireland authorities in the context of overall plans for the development of Northern Ireland’s railways. Both larnród Éireann and Northern Ireland Railways are working on proposals to improve the Dublin-Belfast service in terms of frequency and journey times.
While I welcome that the Senator’s Adjournment matter relates to the Derry-Coleraine service, the North-South Ministerial Council at its December 2007 meeting welcomed a presentation from representatives of larnród Éireann and Northern Ireland Railways regarding the Dublin-Belfast service. It noted the options for the development of the service, particularly in terms of increased service frequency, improvements to rolling stock and the elimination of speed restrictions. The council requested officials to assess the options and prepare a report for consideration by it at its next meeting in May. The subject will be on the agenda and there will be an opportunity to consider the Senator’s matter.
In considering the case for improved Dublin-Derry rail services, it is important to bear in mind the improvements made in transport links to the north west generally. I first came to Dublin as a public representative from the far end of the north west for the county in 1981 when there was little funding available. Over the years, major upgrades of roads, such as the N2, N4 and N15 serving the north west, have been completed and more are planned. I am proud that, when travelling on the M1, the only town one goes through is Emyvale, then the inner relief road at Omagh and through to Strabane. While much remains to be done, it is important to focus on what has been done in recent years in terms of train, air and road services. Substantial support is being provided for air services between Dublin and Derry and between Dublin and Carrickfinn, Donegal’s airport. These links are supplemented by extensive hourly bus services between Dublin and Derry, including nine daily services each way operated by Bus Éireann.
Further investment under Transport 21 will see improvements in transport infrastructure serving the north west, including the Atlantic road corridor linking Derry, Letterkenny, Sligo, Galway, Cork and Waterford. It is important to highlight the fact that the Government has agreed to make available funding of €580 million to provide a major upgrade of roads within Northern Ireland serving the north west gateway of Letterkenny and Derry. The project is being taken forward by the National Roads Authority, which has responsibility on this side of the Border, and the Roads Service of Northern Ireland under the auspices of the North-South Ministerial Council.
Progress has been made in respect of air links, roads and the Derry-Belfast line, but I take on board Senator Keaveney’s strong case regarding the Derry-Coleraine route. She stated that, instead of it being necessary to secure CPOs for rail lines or property, it is a question of an upgrade. It would be beneficial for those from Donegal who would use the Derry-Dublin train service and not just the people of Derry. I will raise the various issues referred to by the Senator with the Minister. I can neither refute nor confirm the issue concerning the provision of capital funding elsewhere in the country, but I assure the Senator that the facts will be ascertained and I will ask the Minister and his office to provide them to her.
Senator Cecilia Keaveney: The last point was the most important. If, as I have been led to believe, there is European funding for the Dublin-Derry line, it is time to call it the Dublin-Derry line. Will the Minister of State confirm or refute whether the Cork-Dublin or Glountaune-Middleton line got that funding on the basis that the lines all head to Larne? We deserve the same service as everyone else, a line of thinking followed by the Minister of State. We accept that there has been much investment in the area, but there is no train service. We are discussing eco-friendly work that will minimise the amount of heavy freight on the roads, which is offered by train services.
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