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 Header Item Ceisteanna - Questions
 Header Item Cabinet Committees

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 947 No. 1

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Ceisteanna - Questions

Cabinet Committees

 1. Deputy Gerry Adams Information on Gerry Adams Zoom on Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny the Cabinet committee which has responsibility for issues pertaining to public transport. [17837/17]

 2. Deputy Bríd Smith Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny when the Cabinet committee on infrastructure, environment and climate action last met; and when it plans to meet next. [17840/17]

 3. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny when the Cabinet committee on infrastructure, environment and climate action last met; and when it will next meet. [17912/17]

 4. Deputy Mick Barry Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach Information on Enda Kenny Zoom on Enda Kenny the Cabinet committee which is responsible for public transport matters; and the membership of same. [17917/17]

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.

The Cabinet committee on infrastructure, environment and climate action has responsibility for oversight of delivery of key infrastructure and associated policy, including commitments in the programme for Government. In addition, the committee addresses the climate change challenge in terms of domestic policy, including transport, and in respect of Ireland's EU and international obligations.

The Committee does not have any role in respect of industrial relations matters in public transport or any other sectors. It last met on 30 January and a date will be fixed in due course for the next meeting. I chair the Cabinet committee and the membership is comprised of the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith Gabhaim buíochas leis an Taoiseach. I want to ask the Taoiseach, precisely, about the urgency of the Cabinet committee on infrastructure, environment and climate action. The reason I believe this is urgent is because the Taoiseach has said that he does not interfere in industrial relations but we have an ongoing dispute, which is a national crisis, in our public transport. It is now in its 20th day and as we speak, the parties are in the Workplace Relations Commission meeting. I draw the Taoiseach's attention to the fact, as already outlined by Deputy Boyd Barrett in the Dáil last week, that Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, now has €100 million extra from VAT that it had not calculated for and was not expecting. A figure in the region of €18 million or €19 million could sort out the deficit in Bus Éireann. Will the Taoiseach comment on the fact that this money is lying there and if it could possibly be used to save the company? When the issue was raised of the €17 million that could be saved by paying Bus Éireann the equal amount of social welfare subsidy for free travel as is paid to the private operator, I noted that the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Leo Varadkar, responded by stating this was like comparing the price of free travel with the price of subsidising Coca-Cola. This indicates to me the utter class snobbery driving this Government. The Government - and especially Ministers such as Deputy Varadkar who were born and bred with a silver spoon in their mouths - does not understand ordinary working-class people and the needs of the poorer and more vulnerable people in the State for free public transport and for public transport that works and delivers for the most marginalised. Nor does it understand the needs of the bus workers and their families who have now been without wages for three weeks.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Time please Deputy.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith There is €100 million sitting in the coffers of Transport Infrastructure Ireland that could end this dispute in the morning, save the company and save the conditions and pay of those drivers.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Thank you Deputy.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith What does the Taoiseach say to that? What does he say to the dismissive attitude of his Ministers, like the Minister, Deputy Varadkar-----

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Deputy, I must give others the opportunity.

Deputy Bríd Smith: Information on Bríd Smith Zoom on Bríd Smith -----on the issue that is a crisis for most people in the State?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher Will Members agree that we shall take all the supplementary questions now? Agreed. I invite Deputy Boyd Barrett on the same group of questions.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett One very important part of our infrastructure is ports and harbours. I want to know if the Government has discussed the very long-running saga of Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company. The Harbours Act, brought forward by the Government, suggests that the harbour company will be transferred to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. This has still not happened although most other harbour companies have been transferred to their local authorities. This is because a harbour company quango and its very highly paid executives have frustrated the process by refusing to co-operate with the local authority in a due diligence examination of its financial situation. A risk assessment arising out of the due diligence process has identified a whole series of very serious financial risks. The company is refusing to give the information coming out of the risk assessment on those financial risks to the local authorities, to public representatives or to anybody on the grounds of commercial secrecy. This saga has gone on and on and yet we have had crazy plans for cruise ship berths costing millions of euro. We have a beautiful amenity which is just sitting there and rotting while the harbour company quango plays games with the local authority. Will the Cabinet committee discuss this and will it ensure that the Harbours Act is acted upon so this quango is dissolved and we can have real accountability over this critical piece of infrastructure?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher I call Deputy Brady on behalf of Deputy Adams.

Deputy John Brady: Information on John Brady Zoom on John Brady I am sure the Taoiseach is well aware that the Bus Éireann strike is in its 20th day. Talks at the Workplace Relations Commission collapsed yesterday. Following that, the unions and management referred a number of issues to the Labour Court for non-binding arbitration. The Labour Court heard the issues from yesterday and the talks have resumed this morning. It is clear, however, from the emerging speculation around the possible outline deal that any agreement that might emerge could see significant job losses within Bus Éireann. It would seem that this would also seriously undermine Bus Éireann's ability to provide an essential public transport service to communities and towns right across the State. The Government's refusal to engage constructively in the dispute has contributed significantly to the duration and impact on the travelling public. The financial crisis in Bus Éireann has been exacerbated because of the refusal of the key stakeholders, including the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the National Transport Authority and the Minister, Deputy Ross, to protect an essential public service. Rural Ireland has been brought to a complete standstill. Local businesses are being starved of customers because many people are unable to get to town centres and retail areas. The Government's stance reflects the lack of priority given to rural Ireland. What is the Taoiseach and his Government doing to bring this strike to an end? What is he doing to ensure the financial crisis within Bus Éireann is addressed?

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin One thing that has become absolutely clear during the current Bus Éireann dispute is that the Government does not have a transport policy. While the transport portfolio has been held by various high-profile Ministers over the last six years, the Government's only strategy is to try to get through the latest crisis. There is no sense that there is a policy on what level or quality of public transport services should be available or what the State subvention levels should be. Each of the public transport companies is being defined by what it can do without going bankrupt, rather than working to implement an overall vision for access and quality. If we had that policy framework in place, we may have never seen this Bus Éireann strike. The workers have gone through an awful lot of sacrifices and have lost a lot over the last four weeks. Belatedly, the Minister, Deputy Ross, has said he will convene a forum and that the free travel scheme and the public service obligation will be applied differently. It is past time for the Government and the Minister to produce a formal statement of Government objectives and resources with regard to public transport provision in Ireland. The overriding feeling of people on the ground is that had this dispute been in Dublin, it would have been resolved a long time ago. We need to be very careful that we are not going down the road of a low-wage public sector economy. That would be detrimental overall to society and to the value of public sector interventions.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin I am concerned that there is no clear enunciation of a transport policy from the Government. It is unacceptable that this company is so distant from Government, although the Government owns it 100%, that the Government cannot have a vision of what public transport in Ireland should look like and how Bus Éireann will fit in to that vision. Most people are aghast at the complete lack of involvement from the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross. He has emerged occasionally to say that he has no involvement in the dispute and cannot have any involvement. The Taoiseach knows that in various disputes over time, Ministers have been involved in trying to assist matters especially when the actual viability of the company was at stake.


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