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Financial Resolution No. 2: General (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 924 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross] It is important-----

Deputy Margaret Murphy O'Mahony: Information on Margaret Murphy O'Mahony Zoom on Margaret Murphy O'Mahony How does the Minister know?

Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross If anyone reads the evidence, they will see he did not read them. I will go into that if the Deputy wants me to, but I want to go on.

Deputy Margaret Murphy O'Mahony: Information on Margaret Murphy O'Mahony Zoom on Margaret Murphy O'Mahony Did the Minister read the reports?

Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross I wish to turn to my own Department.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The Minister has 1 minute and 30 seconds.

Deputy Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry How is the Minister going to fill the 30 seconds?

Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross Yesterday's budget provides for increases of 3.5% in Government spending next year. My Department Vote will reach €1.8 billion next year, which represents a 4.1% increase on 2016. With competing priorities such as housing, health and child care, this increase is a good outcome and shows a continued commitment to transport investment, in particular as a key support to economic growth.

The main highlights in my Department's Vote are a €90 million, or 7%, increase to €1.46 billion in the land transport budget. Our baseline capital funding will now exceed €1 billion. Within that, the public transport subvention will increase by 12%, or €31 million. The regional and local roads programme will increase by 10% to €275 million in capital funding. Some €344 million will be allocated for public transport investment, which, among other things, will ensure completion of Luas cross-city, the most significant transport project in recent times, on time and on budget.

As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I must look to the future and ensure we are prepared for the increased demands associated with economic growth. In that context, for example, an airport capacity review has been brought forward from 2018 to commence shortly, with a view to ensuring no barrier at our national airports.

Deputy Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry How much does that cost?

Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane P.N. Ross Zoom on Shane P.N. Ross We are advancing key road investments, including widening the N7 around Naas, and the linked work on the Sallins bypass and access to the Millennium business park, as well as preparatory work and planning on projects in the capital plan such as the Dunkettle upgrade and the N4 from Colooney to Castlebaldwin. We are planning other key projects, such as metro north and the DART expansion. We are expanding the bus market in 2017. I have always maintained that competition is good for the passenger and the taxpayer.

The budget is about keeping a growing economy moving. We need transport provision to keep pace and avoid becoming an impediment to that growth.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien I wish to share time with Deputies Marc MacSharry, Fiona O'Loughlin, Anne Rabbitte and Margaret Murphy O'Mahony.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien I was going to confine my remarks specifically to Brexit, which I will get to shortly, but I was very interested to hear the remarks of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross. I would remind the Minister that the only party that has ever delivered infrastructure development and vision in this country has been Fianna Fáil. Our track record stands for itself. One need only look at the Port Tunnel, the national motorway network, Terminal 2, which the Minister railed against at the time, Luas, Lansdowne Road and Croke Park - I could go on. Having looked at yesterday's speech of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, I note all that was covered with regard to transport related to another review of metro north, another review of DART extensions and another review of DART underground, which the Government cancelled and then put back.

Deputy Ross, as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, has the honour of presiding over an airport which is the fifth busiest in Europe but is the only major airport in Europe that does not have a rail link into the city and beyond. What he has done is decide he will try to set up the IAA as the competent body to decide on the future development of that airport. This is something with which I cannot agree. The Minister is going to allow the IAA to set aside An Bord Pleanála decisions which have been made by what is the independent planning body in this country. The Minister will effectively be telling the IAA, under the statutory instrument or primary legislation that he will bring forward, that he will let it set those decisions aside completely, against the wishes of many of the people who live adjacent to the airport, those same residents the Minister said he would not allow to be bullied by the DAA. He is doing that by his plans to make the IAA the competent authority to oversee this.

If there is one Minister who has done less in this budget than Deputy Ross, that would be the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan. We were promised a Brexit-proofed budget to set forward the plan for how the Government was going to protect the national interest of the country. In the only statement issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade yesterday, there was not one mention of Brexit. The only statement referred to €10 million in additional funding for overseas development aid at a time when there is the migrant crisis which we see on the borders of Europe and the terrible atrocities that are ongoing day after day in the Middle East, specifically in Syria. Despite this, the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, issued a press statement that he is giving an extra €10 million in overseas development aid but he does not even mention Brexit. Given the Department is so intrinsically involved with Brexit, this is very worrying for us and it underscores the Government's abysmal approach so far to Brexit.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade did not seem to get any wins in budget 2017. The only tweet it issued on the budget was that it allows the passport service to maintain service levels during significant increases in demand. This is the very least I would have expected. The Minister has spoken in the past of ensuring that our embassies are fully equipped to deal with Brexit and that they would be resourced to be able to respond to the challenges that Brexit will pose and to spread the message across the world that Ireland is open for business and trade. If there is no additional funding in this area to resource our embassies, how in God's name is this Department or the Government going to deliver on that promise?

While I welcome the increase in funding for the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, and in particular the funding increases to the IDA and Enterprise Ireland and the retention of the 9% VAT rate for the hospitality sector, the budget is far from Brexit-proofed, as the Taoiseach promised. The Government's response to date has been tardy and lacklustre. The budget was an opportunity to show that we are finally dealing head-on with this issue and that we are comprehensively preparing for Brexit. However, all we got was a pitiful response to this event that is going to have profound implications for our country.

The Government is duty-bound to protect the national interest of this country and the hundreds of thousands of Irish citizens in the North of Ireland. I put it to the House that the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, has so far abysmally failed in that area. Furthermore, he is not even sharing any information across the House in this new political arrangement that the Minister, Deputy Ross, talked about. The Government needs to get its act together with regard to Brexit because we are sleepwalking ourselves further into a crisis.

Deputy Marc MacSharry: Information on Marc MacSharry Zoom on Marc MacSharry I thought it was telling that in the 11 minutes of the contribution from the Minister, Deputy Ross, he took a whole 1 minute and 30 seconds to talk about his own Department and what he is doing or, indeed, not doing, for example, in terms of local improvement schemes. I am not even sure he knows what an LIS is, given there might not be many of them being done out in the principality. However, it is something that is very badly needed throughout the country. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle, being a proud Donegal man, will know well what I am talking about.

In terms of those budget measures which have our fingerprints on them, of course, we are proud of them, but this was the Government's budget. I am afraid the budget lacked a strategic vision for my part of the country which would enable our regions to begin to perform to their potential. While no Government is without blame in terms of regional neglect over the years, this budget provided a real opportunity for us to front-load infrastructure projects throughout the country. It was an opportunity to say we are going to put our best foot forward, push the boat out and enable the regions to begin to perform to their potential. Instead of being seen as pain in the national side, placated with an odd bone of €100 million or €200 million now and again, we would take a strategic approach and ask what the north-west region can do for us in regard to tourism, agriculture, small industry and SMEs.

It cannot do this without there being access to the region. There is not a single kilometre of motorway in our region, and it is the Minister, Deputy Ross' Department that is responsible for this area, with other Cabinet Ministers. I recently saw a map from 1729 which showed the road network of the country and, when put against the motorway network for 2016, they exactly fit one on top of the other. That is 300 years of neglect for the region and it is being continued by this Government. No strategic approach has been taken in order to put these regions to work and to acknowledge the initiative and innovation that the people have and what they are prepared to put into play to make a sustainable contribution to the national effort. We are ignoring that aspect.

Yesterday, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, spoke about bringing borrowing down to enable a 45% debt-to-GDP ratio.


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