Seanad Éireann - Volume 152 - 15 October, 1997
National Roads Authority: Motion (Resumed).
Debate resumed on the following motion:
That Seanad Éireann calls on the Minister for the Environment and Local Government to urgently review the necessity for the National Roads Authority and the effectiveness of that organisation.
— (Senator McGowan.)
Mr. Cosgrave Mr. Cosgrave
Mr. Cosgrave: I wish to share my time with Senator Hayes.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Cosgrave Mr. Cosgrave
Mr. Cosgrave: Debate on the NRA is welcome. All of us have different suggestions for that organisation, and many Senators may feel that it has not been accountable. Many questions have been diverted, redirected or answered by a statement to the effect that the relevant Minister has little authority in the matter. Senators McGowan and Lanigan have requested a debate on the NRA and related matters for a long time.
I wish to raise the damage the southern cross route and south-eastern motorway may do to Leopardstown Racecourse. Those proposals may sound the death knell of racing at that venue, although I hope not. Two routes were proposed, and various consultants recommended that a route near a power station and dump would be the desired one. That seemed reasonable while allowing that it would affect certain areas. However, other consultants recommended a route that would go through the straight on the six furlong Leopardstown course.
Flat racing in Leopardstown may not be the great dream of many people, but this route and its resulting works would cause many problems. It will have to be looked at before a possibly retrograde decision is made. Leopardstown, along with the Curragh, has been the showcase of Irish racing for many years and the Minister of State should seek the opinion of the NRA on this matter.  One set of consultants offered a definitive opinion on one route but some years later another set of consultants produced an equally definitive report recommending another route. The danger is that if this latter route is pursued without due consideration, racing at Leopardstown may be under threat.
I also welcome this debate because there seems to be great carnage on the roads. The NRA must further the investigation into the growing number of deaths on the roads. Obviously speed is a main contributory factor, but people get on to new roads which are very well built and then forget when they leave them that they are travelling on an ordinary road which may be narrower or have bends on it.
The transportation of goods by road must also be examined, with particular reference to roads that take freight traffic and villages through which juggernauts pass. We should also examine the issue of putting roads through residential areas which is not desirable.
Mr. Hayes Mr. Hayes
Mr. Hayes: I join with Members in welcoming this debate. As public representatives we deal with road problems in our councils daily. I have been a council member since 1991 and much time has been given to discussing the National Roads Authority but despite many requests, we have failed to get a member of the National Roads Authority to address our meetings and tell us what is its role. Our council has been discussing what is probably one the biggest decisions we will ever have to take, the imminent by-pass of Cashel. The need for it is probably greater than the need in any other town, but the town is divided on whether to by-pass it on the east or west. As the debate progresses, the division widens. We as a council have to take that decision, yet the National Roads Authority will not come to our meetings and will not express an opinion on the matter. It is ludicrous that an authority such as that will not come and join us in making such a huge decision which will have an impact for generations to come and is something that not only the council and its executive but the people of the county take very seriously. It is a hard decision to take. I utterly condemn the authority because it will not come and discuss an issue which is so vital for the people of our area.
Ms Leonard Ms Leonard
Ms Leonard: I welcome the opportunity to speak for the first time in Seanad Éireann but make no apologies for being parochial when I talk about the N2, the Dublin to Derry route.
Monaghan town is my home town and, like every other town, it has had severe traffic problems over the past number of years. In recent years, however, this has gone out of all proportion. The problems used to be just at peak times but now they are all day, even in the evening. The N2 is the main route for traffic coming from Donegal and Derry. A journey from Donegal to Dublin used to take four hours, it now  takes five hours. This is due to inordinate delays in Monaghan town, Castleblayney, Carrickmacross and, to a lesser extent, Ardee. There are a number of reasons for the huge influx of traffic, among them the increase in car ownership. In my town it is also related to urban renewal, which has resulted in numerous new, large stores in the town centre. We have had increase in traffic of 25 per cent through Monaghan town following the peace in Northern Ireland, which I was delighted to see. Studies done over the years on our traffic problems concluded that it is a main priority to have bypasses for each of our towns: Carrickmacross, Castleblayney and Monaghan town. However, it does not seem as if money will be allocated to this in the foreseeable future although it is the long term solution to the problem. Our biggest problem is that we need an inner relief road through Monaghan town. Monaghan County Council has submitted plans for this inner relief road and it will cost around £3 million. In 1995 the council met the National Roads Authority but it did not show any interest in relief roads.
If the council were dealing directly with the Department of the Environment and Local Government money would be allocated for this case which is so urgent. We are lucky that the necessary land for the relief road is owned by Monaghan County Council and the IDA. I call on the Minister to use his influence with the National Roads Authority to give the go ahead for a by-pass but, if that is not forthcoming, to at least allocate a modest sum of money to provide some form of relief to the area.
I listened with interest to Senator McGowan because his views are the same as mine. As far as I can see, areas north of the Dublin to Galway route have been neglected over the last number of years. Not one of the towns on the Derry to Dublin route has been by-passed. Only a few small stretches on the Louth road and in County Monaghan have been realigned. I am from the Cavan-Monaghan constituency where numerous pothole candidates have been elected. This area has been neglected and it does not appear as if there will be greater interest in us at this stage.
The fact that only 10 per cent of traffic is carried by rail was mentioned. At least some areas are fortunate enough to have a rail system. Monaghan lost its rail system in 1958 and is totally dependent on the road network. We are being let down. In Monaghan the main industries are agribusiness — poultry and mushrooms — and furniture. These industries depend on an efficient road system. Presently these businesses are being damaged and we are being held to ransom. The journey to Dublin used to take two hours but it now takes half an hour just to get through Monaghan town. That is totally unnecessary in this day and age.
The National Roads Authority took over the national routes in 1994. Since then there has been a 25 per cent increase in traffic through the main towns in the area. There has been a great amount  of correspondence with the National Roads Authority involving various organisations and the county council, all to no avail. The counties north of the Border have also been pressing the National Roads Authority to provide an increase in funding to aid the roads network in our area.
I do not know who are the members of the National Roads Authority. As far as I am concerned, a number of faceless people run the authority. If the Minister had greater control, the buck would stop with him. Who does one contact when communicating with the NRA? Correspondence is fine but anyone can issue a standard letter. Every meeting I attended in my constituency during recent years has been given over to discussion of the roads network.
In the long term, each town in my county and the town of Ardee in County Louth should be bypassed. In the interim, a ring road or relief road is needed, particularly in the case of Monaghan town. Representatives from the National Roads Authority should visit my constituency as a matter of urgency to investigate the problem. In the two years that we have corresponded with the authority, such a visit has not been forthcoming. They need only travel through the town at any time of the day to witness the situation for themselves. As yet, however, no representatives have appeared and no decision has been reached. It appears that no consideration has been given to the possibility of constructing bypasses and there is no interest in putting in place a ring road or relief road. Where do we go from here?
In times of progress, delays experienced on simple journeys are completely unnecessary. We must consider if it is necessary to have a National Roads Authority. Other Members believe it is necessary but we must consider the efficiency of the board because, as far as I am concerned, it leaves much to be desired.
Mr. Callanan Mr. Callanan
Mr. Callanan: I will attempt to make my points as succinct as possible. We are discussing a review of the National Roads Authority. We might ask why it was established and what are its terms of reference and its functions.
During his contribution, the Minister stated that “53 per cent of the national road network including the four key corridors will be completed by 1999.” Bearing in mind that only 5,500 kilometres of the 90,000 miles of road in this country are classed as national primary or secondary roads, it appears the NRA has little responsibility. However, its expenditure of millions of pounds begs the question, is the investment worthwhile? In the year 2003 or 2005, when we have prepared for the “soft landing”, what will the NRA and the Department of the Environment and Local Government do to maintain and protect that investment?
Ireland was granted objective 1 status which ensured that European funding would be spread throughout the country. The interests of the west, north-west, east and south-east were represented during this debate. I live in the south and I look  with envious eyes at the investment made along the east coast. I recall attending a conference a number of years ago which was addressed by NRA personnel. A map was placed on the wall and we were informed that Portlaoise was the cut-off point from where the volume of traffic originated and emanated towards the east coast. The port of Dublin was shown and reference was made to road structures to facilitate port development. They spoke about increasing the volume of traffic through Dublin port from 20 per cent to 45 per cent. Is that good national planning? The obvious answer is that it is not. If traffic through Dublin port was increased to 45 per cent other ports would lose out and a greater problem would be created for the people of Dublin. People living on the east coast complain about the current volume of traffic and our policy is perpetuating the problem. A better regional policy geared towards the west and south-west should be put in place.
It has been stated that political intervention does not occur but I contend that it does. I will cite one glorious example to underline my argument. I live near Bandon where the traffic count on an average day exceeds 10,000 motor vehicles travelling eastwards to Cork. The national secondary road which runs through the town was built when ponies and traps where still in fashion. No money has been spent on improving it in the interim. However, I attended a meeting of Tralee County Council which discussed the possibility of constructing a national primary dual carriageway — 4.5 miles long with room for 7,000 vehicles — at the entrance to the town. How can that grading be justified? Representatives of the National Roads Authority have been invited to attend meetings of Cork County Council and, if they do, we will ask them to provide that justification. It is no surprise that they do not attend council meetings.
Mr. McGowan Mr. McGowan
Mr. McGowan: I thank all Members for the large measure — I estimate it at 99 per cent — of support they have given to this motion. I compliment the new Senators who made excellent contributions and appear to be well briefed on the problem.
It is abundantly clear that the National Roads Authority is a layer of authority we could do without. The Minister was as diplomatic as possible when he stated “If the message from this House tonight is that the NRA may have lost sight of the genuine needs of some of its customers, I am sure that is something the authority will take note of and act upon”. I hope the Minister's remarks will be acted upon because, if a change in attitude occurs, we may not need to abandon the National Roads Authority. If Senators Callanan, Lanigan and others from rural areas complain about this problem it is clear that change is required.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. Last year, when I was in Opposition, Commissioner Neil Kinnock sat in the chair he now occupies and I asked him if a case had been made  to him in respect of improvements to the A5 and the N2. He informed me that no such case had been made, that he knew the roads to which I referred and that if a case was made he would provide funding for improvements.
Local authorities are receiving “pothole” money, nothing more, and time is being wasted. The democratic system has been passed over and people elected to these authorities have very little say.
The large amounts of money are being spent by bureaucrats who are not democratically elected to their positions. They may have been appointed by a Minister but they quickly assumed power to themselves. It is right that the House has given notice of its dissatisfaction in this debate.
I am prepared to wait a little longer for improvements. I hope the House will re-examine the performance of the NRA in the near future. I also hope that Senator Leonard and others will continue to monitor the issue in the future. This matter is of fundamental importance to rural areas and the people we represent. If we cannot get satisfaction we might as well throw in the towel because this issue is basic to us as representatives.
The Minister made an important address. I hope we will see a consistent effort to bring about change. I appreciate the support shown for the motion and we have sent out a clear message this evening.
Question put and agreed to.
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: When is it proposed to sit again?
Mr. Cassidy Mr. Cassidy
Mr. Cassidy: At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.
Seanad Éireann 152 National Roads Authority: Motion (Resumed).