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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 Mattie McGrath: Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath] The Minister is as aware as I am that the public transport is not there. It is the same with the Clonmel to Dublin route, where there is uncertainty, and but for private operators we would have basically no service. The Cahir and Clogheen to Cork route has had services removed without engagement. The bus stop had a laminated A4 sheet left on it; I have a picture of such a notice at Hopkinsrea in Burncourt indicating that the bus stop would no longer be in use after two weeks. The notice was left fading and blowing in the wind. That is not good enough.

We had the same problem when the new M8 was opened. We fought for years to get a bus to stop in New Inn and we achieved that goal. When the motorway was opened, the bus went along the motorway and the company forgot about the people of New Inn. Before the bus stopped in the village, the people had to travel to Cahir or Cashel to get the bus. We cannot carry on like that.

Railway stations are an untapped resource. I have fond memories of bringing beet into Cahir when there was many staff and much activity but the station is now idle. There is a waiting room if people want to avail of the few services that are left. Entrepreneurs have contacted me over the past number of years with businesses ideally suited to that building but there was no engagement with CIE. Railway stations are lovely, protected listed buildings but they are idle. I commend the station master, who has passed away, and his wife, who still lives there, for the way the property and area has been kept. The buildings are big and accessible but they are left idle, with cobwebs and crows flying through them. That resource is being squandered by the incompetence of management, who did not become swift, thrifty or innovative in their business and thought the Government would continue to pump money into the company.

I am very involved with rural transport. I have not determined if the cuts will be €10 million or €11 million but there is much voluntary engagement in the likes of Ring a Link in Carlow, Kilkenny and south Tipperary. I am chairperson of the south Tipperary working group but there are three. There is a voluntary board, a manager in Mr. Jackie Mealy and bus drivers. They bring pleasure, sustenance and benefit to passengers. I could give quotes from letters, and we launched a book with such letters. One lady said it was like opening the gates of Mountjoy and releasing her because the bus could pick her up at her house and bring her home. She could book the service on-line by giving a time and date. I salute the board members and staff.

Why should these people be worried about funding? We gave more than €10 million to Derry Airport in 2011, although I am not against such funding going to the airport. When the McCarthy report was published, it recommended the closure of rural transport, despite us working tirelessly for it. I commend the people doing the groundwork, including a number of clergy involved in my area. Our county is a showcase, as passenger numbers are large and we provide value for money. We are pruning services that are not cost-effective. Our service should be expanded and we must allow it to flourish.

There is rural transport in most counties but I have been contacted by a lady from just outside Tallaght in Dublin. She availed of a service but that is being discontinued. She is almost in Tallaght - she can see it from where she lives - but now she may as well be in Donegal because there is no service and she must ring a taxi. The Minister would know the geography of Dublin better than me, as I only drive through the area. This is a proud Tipperary woman who has lived in Dublin for 40 years. She fought for a service and got it but now it has been stopped with the stroke of a pen because the group in east Wicklow was not able to oblige her any longer. I would not blame the group as it must rein in its budget too.

There are many questions to be asked of the senior management and board and about their behaviour over the years. We should examine the costs of consultants, fees and junkets over the years, leaving the ordinary people last to get anything. They are first to be hammered.

I offer sympathies on what happened yesterday. I happened to be on the street close to where the incident involving the bus occurred. It is awful as somebody died, which is unfortunate for the person's family and the bus driver and passengers. Bus drivers have many trips to complete every day and they have a safe record, in fairness. Although accidents happen, it was unfortunate for the bus driver, passengers and colleagues.

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar At the outset I thank Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin spokespersons, as well as Independent Members, for their support of the Bill. I will address a few points raised by Deputies before I sum up. Deputy McConologue raised the issue of competitive tendering and asked if there is a difference between Fine Gael and Labour Ministers on the matter. Like many issues, there is a diversity of views in the Government and they do not always break down along party lines. I was disappointed that having asked the question, Deputy McConologue did not tell us the Fianna Fáil view, and I am interested in knowing the party's view, including what it thinks would be most of benefit to passengers or in the public interest.

I had a chance to examine the Fianna Fáil pre-budget submission, which although not fully costed was fairly detailed. It is interesting to note that in the pre-budget submission, the party proposed to increase spending in a number of areas but did not propose any increase in spending on public transport or CIE. I intend to hold Fianna Fáil to their proposal and will not listen to its Members criticising the level of subvention, as their alternative budget endorsed and supported cuts in subvention. It is there in black and white with Fianna Fáil headed paper. Fianna Fáil also proposed a 7% cut in free travel. We will not cut that scheme and I would like to know how Fianna Fáil would intend to bring about the 7% cut in the amount provided for free travel.

Deputy McConologue was concerned that I may be taking a hands-off approach with public transport and CIE but that is absolutely not the case. I have a very hands-on approach in the area and the CIE financial crisis takes up much of my time and that of the Minister of State and officials. We must bear in mind that CIE and subsidiary companies are not a normal part of the public service; although they provide public as well as commercial services, they are not the same as the Departments of Social Protection, Education and Skills or Health or the Revenue Commissioners. They are a State-owned enterprise with a board and management, so there is a certain separation. Certain logical and legal procedures do not allow a Minister to be as engaged in processes as he or she would be in the Department.

Deputy Ross indicated that this Bill is essentially throwing a lifeline to CIE, which is absolutely correct, and he questioned whether we should do so. It is a legitimate question. He also asked the rhetorical question of what would happen if we did not pass this Bill. There are two options. The first is putting another cash injection of taxpayer money into CIE in 2013; that will not happen as I do not have the money. The alternative is to allow the company to go bust or close down significant parts of the services it provides. That is not something I can countenance either, and that is why the Bill is before us.

The Bill has a number of important elements. It clarifies different measures under which CIE can engage in non-capital borrowing and makes a few changes with regard to the importance of State guarantees. It recognises that although Irish Rail is part of the State, Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus are not. That derives from European law. The legislation sends a clear message to the CIE board, management and staff that if it runs behind this year, the company will have to borrow money. Any deficit will have to be covered through borrowing against assets, interest will be paid on the borrowing and the money must be repaid. There is no possibility of a further cash injection above what has already been given to CIE.

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