[Sinn Fein]

26th March 2003


Crowe Supports Formation of National Transport Authority

Speaking in Leinster House last night in support of a Green Party Bill to set up a National Transport Authority to co-ordinate and integrate the Irish public transport network with the construction of new roads, Sinn Fein Spokesperson on Transport Seán Crowe gave his support to the legislation.

The Dublin South-West TD said: ``Sinn Fein has long been on record as supporting the creation of a national transport authority as a positive step towards the development of an integrated all-Ireland strategy on public transport and infrastructural development.''

Deputy Crowe went on to condemn the Government's plans to break up CIE: ``The Government's move to break up CIE represents the wrong kind of transport policy. Instead of a public transport system which works in a co-ordinated fashion, the Minister proposes that its various elements compete against each other. At one of his first meetings with CIE following his appointment he told the company he believed the subvention it received from the State should be reduced, rather than increased to a level which would allow it to realistically tackle the problems it faces.

``We need to address decades of underfunding in our transport system. The most recent comparative study of investment in urban public transport in European cities indicated Dublin had the third lowest subvention rate for urban bus services.''

Deputy Crowe also used the opportunity to express again his disagreement with the use of tolling and Public Private Partnership for the construction of the badly needed infrastructure necessary for Ireland's social and economic development.

Full Text of Speech Below.

Mr. Crowe: I welcome the legislation proposed by the Green Party. It gives the House an opportunity to discuss the important issue of transport. Sinn Fein has long been on record as supporting the creation of a national transport authority as a positive step towards the development of an integrated all-Ireland strategy on public transport and infrastructural development. Ireland requires an integrated transport plan that puts the overall needs of the economy and all sections of society before sectional interests and profiteering. We need co-operation between the different modes of transport, trains, buses and roads. This requires the centralisation of responsibility for transport in one authority. The possibility of establishing a transport police force as part of the overall authority should be considered.

The Government's move to break up CIE represents the wrong kind of transport policy. Instead of a public transport system which works in a co-ordinated fashion, the Minister proposes that its various elements compete against each other. At one of his first meetings with CIE following his appointment he told the company he believed the subvention it received from the State should be reduced, rather than increased to a level which would allow it to realistically tackle the problems it faces.

We need to address decades of underfunding in our transport system. The most recent comparative study of investment in urban public transport in European cities indicated Dublin had the third lowest subvention rate for urban bus services. While I accept more money has been invested in Dublin Bus since the report was published on which I congratulate the Government, we are still playing catch-up in many other areas following many years during which our public transport service was expected to survive on paltry assistance.

It is still the case that people returning from visits abroad, especially to such countries as France and Germany, view the prospect of using Dublin Bus again with trepidation. It is the staff of the organisation which ensures this overstretched public transport network operates so efficiently. Ironically, these men and women often bear the brunt of the anger of disgruntled passengers.

Question marks remain over the Government's commitment to maintaining public transport and State ownership of companies such as Aer Lingus. Following his appointment, the Minister said the State should not be involved in commercial activities in which it did not want to be involved. I hope he does not regard public transport as a commercial activity as opposed to a service.

The legislation before us would play a major part in ensuring the response to the needs of citizens by our public transport system would be more reliable and efficient. The planned development and proper maintenance of our road network are essential parts of an integrated transport strategy. However, a balance must be struck between the development of new, improved roads and the development of a more extensive public transport network. It is Sinn Fein's firm belief that an efficient, effective, reliable, affordable and safe public transport system is the solution to urban traffic congestion.

In areas outside Dublin and other urban centres across the island, we need to take seriously the need for a much improved rural public transport network. Public transport is vital, especially for groups such as the young, the elderly and the less well-off. For young people the cost of buying and running a car, particularly given the rising cost of motor insurance, is a pipedream. These sections of society can find themselves cut off from employment, education and social opportunities as a result of the poor public transport system. My constituency, in which houses were built without a transport system, has for years been a prime example of this problem. I regularly cite the example of Intel and the fact that young people from Tallaght and elsewhere in Dublin south-west find it impossible to get to Leixlip to take up jobs in the company.

The reliance in rural areas on private motor cars is a result of the lack of investment in rural transport. In many parts of the country it is impossible to get around. A glance at a map of the rail network provides a perfect example of the effect of partition on transport.

It is essential for social and economic development and those reliant on cars to get around that the national roads infrastructure is upgraded and planned projects are commenced and completed on time. While I welcome the investment the Government has made in the construction of new roads across the State and the assistance we have received from the European Union, I cannot but be concerned about the use of public private partnerships and the tolling aspect of yesterday's announcement on the construction of a new stretch of motorway. I oppose the use of toll roads for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the imposition of a charge on a new road often means drivers who face higher tolls, especially drivers of heavy goods vehicles, will use older, narrow roads rather than pay a toll.

That means that despite the massive investment in roads, the drivers of many heavy goods vehicles will continue to travel on roads that are unsuitable. The safety-congestion problems the toll roads are designed to put an end to will remain. It is madness that we build roads and then do everything to encourage drivers not to use them.

The profits made from the tolls on the Westlink and Eastlink routes amount to millions of euro every year and Eurolink will have 30 years to exploit the Irish motorist. Public private partnerships represent a serious failure by successive Governments to use resources provided by recent economic growth for social programmes and infrastructures that serve the population. Instead, big business has been the primary beneficiary of the economic boom of the past decade. Toll contracts are a licence to print money and it is clear from the profits these companies are making that that is what they are doing.

Before Christmas, the Taoiseach told the House that it was no secret that the Department of Finance had mixed feelings about public private partnerships, and it has given its views to a committee of the House. The Department believes that an excessive amount of money must be paid to financial institutions as part of the system. The only difference between the public private partnership in this case and the use of it in the construction of schools, for example, is that it is the people who will pay more in the long run, in this case motorists.

Sinn Fein has long suggested other options. For example, public bonds are often used in cities in the United States to fund major projects. In Wales, for example, Glas Cymru, a non-profit public company, issued 2 billion worth of bonds to buy the utility that supplies water and sewerage services to Wales. Public bonds have lower rates of interest which ensures that capital investment projects such as schools remain under public ownership and management.

Public private partnerships are unnecessary and represent the worst kind of short-term thinking. It would be more economically sensible to raise money for the development of our infrastructure through borrowing or increased taxation on the wealthy or big business instead of hitting the ordinary motorist.

I welcome the emphasis in the proposed legislation on involvement with local authorities and communities. It is important that the people who will be most directly affected by planned construction of roads are as involved as possible in the consultation process. Non-national roads are the responsibility of local authorities and the usage of them is often dependent on the construction of motorways nearby.

An integral approach to this area is clearly needed. Non-national roads are the lifelines of rural communities and small towns. They cannot be merely seen as on-off ramps for motorways. They must continue to receive improved resources for upgrading and maintenance. More open consultation might have averted mistakes such as the farce that developed at Carrickmines where a valuable historic site was damaged by the routing of the M50 through a national monument.

While we support the development of the authority as outlined in the legislation before the House, and its expansion on an all-Ireland basis, it is a long-standing belief of mine that appointments made to these types of bodies must be more open and transparent and the public better informed about them. The vacancies on the authority should be advertised in the national media, the criteria for the vacancies published and interviews held to ascertain the most suitable candidates for these positions.

In the past we have seen State boards and bodies stacked by Ministers with political appointees and positions handed out to financial backers and long-term supporters. The ordinary people have suffered as a result of that approach. Every effort should be made to make sure that there is worker representation from the various trade unions involved in the transport industry on the authority. The make-up of the authority should take into account the need to achieve the 40% gender balance target on State boards.

I hope to be given the opportunity of raising these issues on Committee Stage. I call on Members on all sides of the House to allow the Bill progress to Committee Stage so that a fuller debate on transport can take place.


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