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National Development Plan: Motion [Private Members] (Continued)

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 983 No. 4

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Barry Cowen: Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen] Does he know that Bord na Mona is shedding between 450 and 600 jobs, as it accelerates its decarbonisation programme? I take it he does not know that and it is very unfortunate that he would make such comment. It is also very unfortunate that he has not put in place, with the available carbon tax revenue, direct funding and assistance for a transition group that has been put in place for the region. Then again, neither the Taoiseach nor his Government saw fit to ensure the EU would include the peatlands in the coal mining districts-in-transition fund set up for such areas throughout Europe. It will take an application to the new European Commission for that to be rectified but that signifies, in a small way, that the intent is not there on the part of the Government to address areas that understand what is expected of them but get no compensation, help or assistance to ensure the transition is meaningful and can be beneficial rather than detrimental.

I also believe it is necessary for this Dáil to instruct the Government to cater for a review because of the issue of overspending. The national development plan is not long in vogue and, as Deputy Catherine Murphy said, great fanfare greeted its initiation and there were many pages of print across local newspapers, thanks to the national spin unit, which was dismantled thereafter because of the obvious efforts it made to create the impression it was something that it is not. Simply put, the national children's hospital and the national broadband plan will accommodate an overspend in the region of €2.56 billion. What impact will that have? Will it mean that projects announced for different parts of the country in housing, education, health and primary care, among others, will be forgone? That is the advice that was given to the Minister of Public Expenditure and Reform by his own Secretary General. It is also the advice given in the independent assessment by the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council published today. The council points out that the ceilings set by many Departments have been exceeded over a number of years. The council's report also notes that the structural deficit impinges on the targets set by the EU in the context of the fiscal rules. The contention that has been around this House for many years that Fine Gael is the only party that can manage the public finances has been blown to shreds in recent weeks alone.

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform said on the "Six One News" on 8 May last - I will check my dates - that no project of any shape or form within the national development plan would be impacted on by the overruns related the national broadband plan or the national children's hospital but he cannot give such a guarantee. He said the overruns would be catered for through revenue resources. However, these are the same revenue resources and projects contained within the Government figures and projections that the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council has said are "not credible" and are "irresponsible". The report published today is damning. I put it to members of the council at a committee meeting earlier today that the Government's figures are based on volatile corporate tax receipts. The Minister has acknowledged this and has said he has catered for it in this year's budget by not including an expectation of a similar amount as that collected last year. However, I am sure corporate tax receipts will be used to cater for the overspend that will inevitably happen in the Department of Health, among others. The Government's figures are also based on a soft Brexit and the implications of same. Various reports have looked at the alternative which could have a far greater impact on the economy and the national development plan. The bottom line is that in order to cater for the overspend at this early stage, the Government must either increase taxes, borrow more, cut projects within the plan or cut current expenditure. That is a fact. The Minister and his party often accuse others in this House of engaging in fairy economics but he gave a lesson in fairy economics recently when he claimed that the overspend would not impact on any planned project.

It is for these reasons that I believe, especially given the numbers in this Dáil, the recent elections and the sentiments expressed to me on the doorstep, that people expect that all those elected to this House and to local authorities should be able to work together for the betterment of those that they serve. The Government rushed to announce this, as it has rushed to announce many things, but there was not a whole lot of work behind it. The Government is good on the hard hats and the high-vis jackets but is not so good when it comes to the shovel and getting the work done. I hope the Government will take note of what the House is saying and will ensure a proper review takes place. In that way, it can be straight with the public as to what will emanate and be delivered as a result.

Deputy Shane Cassells: Information on Shane Cassells Zoom on Shane Cassells I welcome the opportunity to debate the call for a review of the national development plan. There is no doubt that Government's behaviour in the context of the national development plan, Project Ireland 2040 and, in particular, the national planning framework, was disgraceful and showed the contempt with which the national Parliament is held by this Government. The Parliament was bypassed in terms of a proper debate and, crucially, an actual vote on the endorsement or otherwise of the national planning framework. I have heard members of the Government claim in this House and in the media that a vote actually happened when it blatantly did not. Instead, straight after the bypassing of that vote, we had the around-Ireland roadshow, with goodies for certain constituencies and certain Deputies. A bit like the spin unit that was spinning that news, the strategic communications unit, SCU, is gone and a lot of the money needed to deliver these projects is vanishing as well, most of it into the crater at St. James' Hospital. Now we come to the crux of the matter. A significant part of the planning framework relates to where the population will be dispersed and centred in the next 20 years but is contingent on the supporting infrastructure being in place to allow people to live in areas that have the physical and social amenities that they need. We have seen all this before. The overarching document gives the green light to the regional and, subsequently, the county plans but with the obvious demand for new housing, sites will start to be developed. What will not keep pace is the supporting infrastructure necessary for people in these areas to live quality lives, especially on the east coast. Lest we are accused tonight of cheap political digs for a debate, the facts speak for themselves. Take the issue of education as an example. Even before the publication of the national development plan, scores of new schools were announced on the eve of the last general election. There were half a dozen announced for my own town alone but not one of those schools has been developed. We have asked questions about them in this House but there is still no sign of them. If the goodies announced prior to the last election have not been delivered, how is it credible that the projects in this plan will happen? The Minister cherry-picked a number of items in the plan and cherry-picking is what is being done in terms of deliverability.

The Green Party has tabled an amendment seeking a climate impact assessment as part of the review, which we are supporting. In my constituency there is a proposal that gets just a fleeting reference in this plan but it could assist greatly in the reduction of car emissions in a county of 200,000 people. I refer to the development of the Navan to Dublin rail line. The Government is saying that it will throw its eye over the viability of that project in a few years' time. The Taoiseach travels that road and must see the backlog of traffic each morning at 6 a.m. He should back the rail line project which could help in terms of climate change, as well as improving the lives of the decent people of County Meath.

Deputy Margaret Murphy O'Mahony: Information on Margaret Murphy O'Mahony Zoom on Margaret Murphy O'Mahony I wish to speak about issues specifically pertaining to my constituency of Cork South-West. The national planning framework and the national development plan were launched amid much media hype. However, this has long since waned and the truth is that the Government has failed to deliver on a massive scale. I have listened to hours of spin at the health committee on the delivery of the national children's hospital. Where are we today? We are waiting on a hospital that will cost almost €550 million extra. We are now in a position where other projects around the country will be greatly impacted on. This is inevitable no matter what the Minister tries to claim. Essential services such as respite and endoscopy units in Bantry General Hospital could now be put on the long finger.

Numerous broadband plans have come and gone, each having missed its deadline. At the end of it all, what do we actually have?

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