Dáil Éireann - Volume 632 - 21 February, 2007

Priority Questions. - Transport Infrastructure.

Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport if he is confident that the maximum return will be secured from investment in transport infrastructure over the coming years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6807/07]

  Mr. Cullen: Transport 21 provides unprecedented capital investment for the development of Ireland’s transport system over the period to 2015. This investment will transform both the national road and public transport networks.

It will deliver faster, safer and more reliable journeys on our national road network. It will lead to a doubling of public transport capacity in the greater Dublin area. It will result in increased service frequency and reliability on our rail network. It will deliver better public transport services in our regions.

The investment programme being funded by Transport 21 is based on an extensive and robust body of research and policy work, including the strategic rail review, the national roads needs study, the DTO’s A Platform for Change and a number of regional land and transportation stud[72] ies. It is supported by the technical and economic evaluations in those reports. There are appraisal and monitoring structures in place that will ensure the maximum return will be derived from the investment involved. All projects contained in Transport 21 have been or will be evaluated in accordance with the requirements of the guidelines for appraisal and management of capital expenditure proposals and the value for money guidelines issued by the Department of Finance. These comprehensive guidelines require the appraisal of the project at various stages from approval in principle to post project review. My Department and the State agencies responsible for implementing Transport 21 projects will, of course, comply fully with the guidelines.

In addition, I have established a monitoring group, comprising representatives of a number of Departments, to oversee progress on Transport 21. The group will satisfy itself that proper procedures are being followed in the appraisal, management and post project review of projects. In this regard, a tender process is nearing completion to engage auditors to provide independent assessments of the appraisals carried out on a selected number of projects. Audits will also be carried out on the physical and financial progress of selected projects under consideration.

  Ms O. Mitchell: I accept what the Minister is saying as regards unprecedented investment. That is not in question. I am concerned as to whether we are getting value for money for this unprecedented investment. There has never been a shortage of inputs in recent years. The question is whether we are getting the output we should be getting. Given the scale of promised investment and the returns on existing investment, one really has to ask this question. The port tunnel has cost the best part of €1 billion, for example, and the volume of traffic is between 6,000 and 8,000 vehicles a day while its capacity must be close to 150,000 per day. It will never grow very much beyond that level. The idea is not to pour traffic into the city and certainly not much more can be diverted onto the M50, so who precisely will use the tunnel? There are no buses in it, and of course there are none to put in it, even if someone was directing the usage of this tunnel. Nobody is co-ordinating these matters, or ensuring the tunnel is used. Earlier we spoke about rail freight and indeed already €1.5 billion has been put into the rail network. It is lying idle most of each day.

The Minister gave Deputy Shortall an example to the effect the private sector had undercut Iarnród Éireann. The reality is that the company’s road haulage division undercut Iarnród Éireann and that is how it lost that contract. We were promised that the Phoenix Park tunnel, one of the best kept secrets, would be opened to bring traffic from Heuston to Connolly Station and perhaps relieve some of the congestion on the quays when the metro work starts. Now that is being [73] reneged on because it might interfere with the interconnector project. Bus lanes are being built in jig-time. Some of them are empty, without even one bus to be seen. The school bus fleet is another area where there is enormous potential for increased output. There is no co-ordination, co-operation or integration of services. The result is that the synergies that should be available if someone was driving all these projects and ensuring they gave the best value for money, are just not happening in Dublin. When are we going to have the Dublin transportation authority that could drive these projects? Does the Minister accept we are getting less than optimal return as a result of not having such a body?

  Mr. Cullen: I certainly do not. I agree that in the early days of the investment programme, it was quite clear the construction sector and the systems that were in place were not geared to take the enormous volume of investment the State wanted to make. There were problems in the early days in that regard, no doubt. However, we are all very heartened by experience in the last few years, Ireland having developed the most formidable construction sector of any country across Europe. Projects are all being delivered on budget and quite substantially ahead of schedule. It is time we stopped knocking the agencies involved which comprise some very good people whom I have met in recent years and who are doing a fantastic job at all levels. No one has the ideal panacea. The solutions cannot be delivered overnight, but quite clearly I do not agree with the Deputy that this is not an integrated approach to the development of transport, both in Dublin and around the country. A formidable, integrated transport solution is being presented. Every month, almost, the integration is seen to be coming together for Dublin. We see the completion of the Naas dual carriageway upgrade to three lanes in either direction, as well as the opening of the largest urban infrastructure tunnel ever built in Europe, the port tunnel, working very successfully. Yes, we need the completion of the M50 upgrade which will increase capacity by 50%, and freeflow tolling. The traffic coherence to be brought about when all those projects have been completed will work extremely well. We are well advanced in our planning on metro north and as regards the Luas network. The first new railway station, which only started last year, will be opened in Dublin next month, in the docklands. It only physically started last year, so great credit is due to Iarnród Éireann for delivering a new railway station on that basis.

  Ms O. Mitchell: The Minister is not answering the question I asked, which——

  Mr. Cullen: I am answering all the questions the Deputy went on about.

[74]   An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Minister is in possession.

  Ms O. Mitchell: —— is about getting value for money for the investment that is being made. I am talking about the usage of the networks that have been provided. Is there value for money for bus lanes that have no buses?

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Order, please. The Minister has the floor.

  Ms O. Mitchell: Can the Minister honestly stand over that and what agency can blame him, since he is the only person to be blamed?

  Mr. Cullen: That is fine and there is a big church in that group, but that does not bother me. The fact is we are delivering and this is visible every day not just in Dublin, but across the country. It is very interesting that public support from 2006 is fantastic for the developments in transport and the visible transformation of almost the country’s entire landscape, including what is being done for communities through bypasses and returning economic and social quality of life to different areas on a weekly basis. It is something this Government is committed to completing. That is why I am the only Minister for Transport in Europe today who got a €34 billion package, a ten year framework, who put in place a development plan that is clearly cohesive and got the financial resources to deliver the solutions.

I have heard Members of the House talk about places in Europe, and Vancouver in Canada and I have spoken to people there and seen them all. There is a very simple answer to this. We are not backward in delivering in this country. That is a simple statement of fact. We should be proud of what many Irish men and women are doing as regards delivering infrastructure.

  Ms O. Mitchell: The Minister is hallucinating.

  Mr. Cullen: We should be proud of it. I know Fine Gael is not, but that is another story. It was against Luas, and rubbished it. It was against the port tunnel even though it has opened.

  Ms O. Mitchell: The Minister is definitely hallucinating.

  Mr. Cullen: Now it is not functioning the way Fine Gael wanted. I am not hallucinating——

  Ms O. Mitchell: I use Luas daily and I fought for it since 1987, so the Minister is hallucinating.

  Mr. Cullen: What gives me encouragement is the standing Ireland has, which is spoken of widely, among international forums, as regards what we are doing in this country. I am proud of that, although the Deputy may not be.

[75]   Ms O. Mitchell: The Minister should consider the amount of money he is spending, without admitting what the output will be.

  Mr. Cullen: I have never pretended that every problem has been solved, but I can certainly say that the solutions, investment and construction are well underway.

  Ms Shortall: The Minister is deluding himself.

  Mr. Cullen: What?

  Ms Shortall: The Minister is deluding himself.