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 Header Item Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Bill 2018 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Continued)
 Header Item National Development Plan: Motion [Private Members]

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 983 No. 4

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  8 o’clock

National Development Plan: Motion [Private Members]

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy I move:

That Dáil Éireann:
notes that:
— Project Ireland 2040 combines the National Planning Framework (NPF) and the ten year National Development Plan (NDP) 2018-2027;

— Project Ireland 2040 was published in February 2018;

— the NDP sets out the investment priorities that will underpin the successful implementation of Ireland’s infrastructural commitments in the NPF;

— the NDP commits to €116 billion capital spending in the period from 2018 to 2027, with Exchequer funding allocated for public capital investment over the period amounting to €91 billion;

— a fundamental purpose of the NDP is ensuring that public capital investment is clearly aligned to the delivery of the objectives and priorities detailed in the NPF;

— since the publication of Project Ireland 2040, there have been significant cost overruns on two key projects listed in the NDP – the National Broadband Plan and the

National Children’s Hospital;

— these cost overruns have a significant knock-on impact on the funding available to other planned-for projects listed in the plan;

— the ten year NDP is fundamentally undermined by the significant cost overruns of these two major construction projects;

— many of the projects listed in the plan will not have the required funding available to them for completion as a result of significant cost overruns on other projects; and

— since the publication of Project Ireland 2040, a climate emergency has been declared by this House and, as a result, significant revisions of the plan are required in order to deliver on this declaration; and
calls on the Government to:
— immediately identify which planned-for projects in the NDP will be delayed or cancelled as a result of lack of funding;

— recognise that the declaration of a climate emergency by the House requires significant revision of the NPF and NDP in order to deliver meaningful action on climate change; and

— urgently revise the NDP and NPF to properly reflect the current spending on listed projects and the impact on the €116 billion overall budget and its allocation across projects.

We all recall the fanfare and staging that accompanied the launching of Project Ireland 2040. There was quite a bit of commentary about the costs involved with the advertising campaign, including cinema advertisements and controversial regional newspaper pieces that were made to look like editorial copy. That coincided with the establishment of the spin unit which was subsequently dismantled. However, behind the spin, the actual reality, where there are a lot of ballpark figures, made very clear that many projects in the plan were aspirational at best and had no real chance of being delivered in a timely way. One cannot pin down absolutely the cost of everything but there are an awful lot of ballpark figures and guesstimates. Having the national planning framework and national development plan in tandem is absolutely the right approach and I have been critical of that not happening in the past. We are seeing very substantial plans for increases in population on the east coast. I can see it in my own area, as well as in Fingal and other areas. It cannot happen without balancing those communities with the infrastructure they require. That is critically important if we are going to build sustainable communities. If we are to get to a regional balance, we cannot count populations twice and three times. We will only grow our population by a certain amount. If we are to do that and get balanced regional development, there has to be a way of doing it without compromising communities, or having plenty of housing - I hope there will be plenty of housing - but very little of the other infrastructure that is required.

  Notwithstanding the original plan and its possible unviability, the overruns, particularly with the national children's hospital and the national broadband plan, have come into stark focus.   While no figure was put on the national broadband plan, there was no expectation that it would be many times the amount that had been talked about. The cost of the national children's hospital project had been estimated at €790 million. We then discovered that that was not a nailed down figure and know from the tendering process that the final cost will now be somewhere around €1.7 billion, when the technology that has to accompany the building has been factored in. That is not an absolute final figure and we were told at the Committee of Public Accounts that containing the cost to that amount will be a challenge. In the national development plan a total of €11 billion was set aside for the entire portfolio of health projects. However, here we are just one year into the lifetime of the plan and we have already committed almost €2 billion of that to just one project. It was originally supposed to be about getting the very best outcome for newborn babies and was to be developed side-by-side with a maternity hospital. Making that happen on or near that site is going to be enormously challenging. It does not even have the provision to land a helicopter, for example, which could be a means of transport. It is surely self-evident that other things provided for within the €11 billion health budget will now suffer as a result and things like acute services, emergency department upgrades, or primary care units, for example, may well be compromised as a consequence. We need to hear from the Government about how that is going to be handled.

  Similarly, a huge plank of Government fanfare surrounding the national broadband plan was about appealing to rural Ireland. It is not so rural and I must say that within my own constituency there are locations where the broadband quality is less than it is required to be. There was no expectation that it would run to a subsidy of up to about €3 billion. However, due to the chaos and mishandling of this Government's approach to both the tendering process and the deal itself, we have seen the cost of delivering the national broadband plan escalate. When it was first announced by the then Minister, Pat Rabbitte, it was somewhere in the region of €350 million. That was way off the mark, but €3 billion is not something any of us expected. There have been many ballpark figures and guesstimates. If we are going to have strategic planning, it has to be based in some semblance of reality. The whole idea of the national development plan was to give comfort and assurance that a long-term strategic vision could be delivered on. For example, there are a number of fairly significant things on the horizon on the income side of things. One of those is Brexit and the other is the corporate tax area, which the G20 is discussing. We were told by the Taoiseach not that long ago that if there was a hard Brexit, there would probably be no money for a national broadband plan. However, the preferred bidder has been announced and the timeframe for signing a contract is during the ploughing championships. Does the Minister have any idea of the optics that is putting out? We are locked into a contract that the Taoiseach himself has said that, in the context of a hard Brexit, we possibly would not have the money to deliver on. The reality is that what it says on paper regarding the long-term outcomes planned for is belied by short-term decisions and actions which are systematically exposing the budgetary flaws at the heart of the national development plan. The Government would like us to believe that it is no big deal and that future budgeting arrangements can accommodate the changes, but when I have money in my hand, I can spend it once. I cannot spend it twice or three times on different things. The national finances are the same and the Minister will probably argue that choices have to be made. It is a big deal that these overruns are there and it is taking us for fools to say it is not going to impact on other things and other very important projects.

  Since the publication of the national development plan, this House has also declared a climate emergency. We had an all-party committee that did very good work and the House debated it and declared a climate emergency. That cannot be a tokenistic declaration. We have to adjust our behaviour as a consequence of making that declaration. There has to be meaningful action and it is not just about how we spend money but about when we spend it. I can give an example. The electrification of the train line in my constituency up to Celbridge and Maynooth is going to be a really important project. The line is electrified as far as Celbridge, and the train comes into town and terminates at Heuston. What happens then? There is a capacity issue with the Luas, because the critically important DART underground, or interconnector, for example, has not been factored in. That seems to be off sometime into the future. Transport is one of the three key elements regarding climate change and one must factor in the big ticket items that are going to make that difference. They are going to be in cities. That is one of the issues and it is self-evident that that needs to be done. It was self-evident decades ago and other Governments in the past can equally be criticised for not spending money when it was available to undertake that kind of a project. We have long since advocated the spend and save approach.

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