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Transport (Córas Iompair Éireann and Subsidiary Companies Borrowings) Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Friday, 7 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 785 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Frank Feighan: Information on Frank Feighan Zoom on Frank Feighan]  On the extension of rural transport services I believe the National Transport Authority is considering the use of school buses and private operators in the provision of rural transport services because they are a vital link for the elderly and people who need such transport to get into the local town to collect their pensions, to shop or to meet their friends. This is because rural areas have become extremely isolated. Even ten years ago, if seeking directions, one always would have seen someone who was walking along the side of the road. However, there no longer appears to be anyone in rural areas and consequently, people tell me how important are such rural transport services.

While a lot of this money is going towards the provision of a public service, one measure that could be examined is the provision of cycleways and walking paths between towns and villages. For example, if one wished to get from Boyle to Carrick-on-Shannon, which takes ten minutes by road, the adoption of the model used in Germany or the Netherlands, with cycleways along rivers and canals, could get a lot of people out of their cars and off the roads. I acknowledge one would need a certain level of fitness but consideration should be given to connecting all the major villages nationwide and I note this has been sorted out successfully in Dublin.

I wish the Minister well with this Bill and thank him for the work he is doing. One point that should be considered in the context of The Gathering event next year is that only 5% of overseas visitors and 6% of tourism revenue are generated through coach tourism. A huge opportunity exists in this regard and I believe Bus Éireann and many other operators must examine this possibility.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on this Bill today. I regard Deputy Varadkar to be a hard-working Minister with good ideas and good intentions. This is a reasonable effort to deal with an issue that should have been dealt with years ago. At the outset, however, I note the Government has promised reform in many areas, including additional settings on Fridays. While this is not the normal kind of Friday sitting, I do not know the reason for the calling for a quorum by the Minister a few minutes ago. In the time when I was supporting a Government as a backbencher, the onus always was on the Government side to maintain the quorum. I do not believe I ever saw a case in which the Government side called a quorum, as it always was done by the Opposition. This may be a sign of reform or perhaps the Minister was simply testing the mettle of his backbenchers to ascertain whether many of them are present in the House today, whether many of them have gone into hiding from the budget or whatever. Nevertheless, I believe this was strange.

Moreover, the Minister of State, Deputy Kehoe, then arrived in the Chamber to propose to Members that the Dáil would not sit next Monday. While this proposal obviously was accepted by the House, Members were meant to be sitting next Monday and I do not know whether they are coming or going. They received very little notice of the Monday sitting in the first instance and now find they will not sit on that day. People must make accommodation requests and so on, as I did this morning, and consequently, Members must have some reasonable interaction and engagement. I am not a Whip of any group and do not know what is going on.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett In what section of the Bill is this?

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I was merely making a preamble to my contribution. The Ceann Comhairle is welcome to the House.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Sorry, I thought I was in the wrong-----

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath No, it was just to note that I was confused about what was happening.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett That is grand.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath I will return to the Bill now.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Barrett Zoom on Seán Barrett Excellent.

Deputy Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath Reform is what I look forward to seeing and in the context of reform of the CIE group, it has been obliged to confront a difficult economic position. As with most businesses sectors in the State, the current economic environment is very challenging for public transport providers. One is told the primary cause of the problem is the recession, which has caused a fall of more than 20% in passenger numbers from the peak in 2007. While this has been partially offset by fare increases, revenue is down by more than 11% from the 2008 level. I can tell the Minister that revenue also has fallen by far more, by between 50% and 60%, for many of the private operators. In this case, the public service obligation, PSO, subvention has reduced by 21% between 2008 and 2012 and is due to fall by a further 14% over the next two years. The removal of the fuel rebate is estimated to have cost the group approximately €22 million. However, that has cost all road users, and certainly all transport providers and hauliers, to the same degree. It was announced in this week's budget that a rebate would be introduced for road hauliers but the rate was not indicated. On pressing the Minister last night, it was found that the private road transport providers, that is, private bus companies, will not be included. This rebate should be applied fairly and should be given to everyone who provide such services.

  The Minister stated:

While the CIE group reported surpluses in each year [of the boom when we all were going crazy] from 2006 to 2008, 2007 was the only year in the period 2006 to 2011 in which the group generated a surplus when the gains from the disposal of fixed assets were excluded, that is, the sale of property. In the past three years, 2009 to 2011, CIE suffered a total loss of more than €137 million after exceptional items. Clearly, this level of loss cannot be sustained.

I welcome these comments and I also welcome the comments he made publicly some time ago to the effect that this issue must be dealt with and is not a bottomless pit. As I noted earlier, there are many areas for reform. To revert to Coras Iompair Éireann and the various organisations therein, in the main I must compliment its workers and staff, including the outdoor workers on the rail lines and everything else. They have been proud, honourable and courteous and did an honest day's work and provided the services. However, at the top of the organisation, something is rotten in the state of Denmark, which appears to have been a problem across our society. Whatever about those out on the front line in the more challenging areas, the board has much to answer for because its auditors had been warning the board about dangers coming down the line. I question whether the board members listened to that warning. Did everyone get carried away in the three or four years of the boom and think there would be no tomorrow and that CIE also would be affected?

  In addition, I have raised a case in the House recently concerning a compulsory purchase order, CPO, that affected a landowner in County Tipperary. While I admit the family concerned approached me late in the day, I believe three alternatives existed for CIE to engage with the aforementioned landowner, rather than placing a compulsory purchase order on his land, locking his gates and locking him out of it. Swaps could have been carried out or other mutual arrangements and three different options existed. I must state that I met a wall of arrogance from officials. They would not meet me, either alone or with the family, and would not engage. I pointed out I was a public representative from south Tipperary, for the time being, but it did not matter as they did not wish to know. This must be dealt with, as such people must be accountable. The State is putting in public money to the group and they must be accountable and must have respect for Members of this House and for others. I was appalled by such a level and I encountered a complete roadblock. I was told the compulsory purchase order would be signed on a certain date, which it was, with the result that the land was cut off from the man. However, it did not make sense because mutual arrangements and swaps could have been entered into for a lot less money and it was a pity that reason could not be seen. One cannot have such a bureaucratic group that will not engage with public representatives and this message must be sent to it loud and clear. However, are they listening or are these people part of the permanent government who consider that no matter who is in charge or elected to this House, they are a greater power? That is how it appears to me. They think the likes of me as a public representative is only here for a while and will be gone after the next election and that they can carry on. This is what has happened to this country in respect of many Departments but it is not good enough and cannot be accepted.

  A situation has arisen with Bus Éireann in my native county and I have been contacted by Councillor Sylvia Cooney-Sheehan dozens of times about the Carrick-on-Suir to Dublin service. People are completely unsure as to what will happen to it, as it faces a threat of being reduced from eight to two services per day. If one considers the budget announced this week and all the talk about it being an austerity budget, it was mentioned several times that people could use public transport. However, it is not available and even the parts that are available are being removed. In this context, I refer to the increase in tax rates for cars with low CO2 emissions and the breach of faith with the members of the public, who greeted the original initiative with gusto. They upgraded by buying cleaner and leaner new cars to avail of the low tax, only to experience this complete breach of faith.

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