Statement by Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Paschal Donohoe TD, to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications on recent Transport Council and future priorities

 

Check Against Delivery

I welcome this opportunity to appear before the Committee this morning to outline the issues that arose in the recent Transport Council. I would also like to mention my priorities for the coming months.

Within days of my appointment as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I was asked by way of Parliamentary Question if I would outline my priorities for the remainder of my term in office. I replied on the basis that I would, over the coming days and weeks, take stock of all aspects of the Department’s functions before identifying any priorities, over and above those already in place when I took office. I said I would do so taking account of the Government’s stated priorities, the general economic situation and my own considerations. I also stated in the reply that I looked forward to discussing these priorities with this Committee in due course.

With the permission of the Chair, I would like to use this opportunity to set out my priorities for the next 18 months or so. 

Transport Council:

Before doing so, I will briefly summarise the outcomes of The EU Council of Transport Ministers. The Council met in Luxembourg on Wednesday 8 October 2014 under the Italian Presidency of the EU. Vice-President Siim Kallas, responsible for transport and mobility, represented the European Commission. Unfortunately neither myself nor the Secretary General of the Department were able to attend as the Council took place during the pre-budget negotiations on the Department’s Estimates for 2015.  I took the view that our presence here was crucial for those negotiations.  My Department was represented in my place by Ray O’Leary, Assistant Secretary, who sits here beside me this morning.

I was also required to be present in the Seanad to present the Vehicle Clamping Bill. 

In relation to the meeting itself, members will have seen the Agenda already.  The Council adopted a general approach on a draft regulation on market access to port services and financial transparency of ports. The new rules are expected to promote fairer competition and reduce legal uncertainties, thereby encouraging efficient port services and investment in ports.

Ireland welcomed the legislative basis being proposed which is already in place in Ireland but expressed regret that the proposal was not more ambitious while nonetheless supporting the compromise document.

The Council held a policy debate on two proposals under what is termed the 4th railway package to improve rail services in the EU by opening the market for domestic passenger services and introducing proposals for stronger governance.

Despite the Presidency and Commission ambition, most of the interventions from Member States, including Ireland, either called for flexibility on the Commission proposals to take account of the specific characteristics in different Member State markets or accepted the Commission objectives but expressed significant reservations on one or more major elements of the Commission proposals.

In its conclusion, the Presidency said that there is a lot of work to be done over the coming months towards the adoption of ‘political guidelines’ on the package.

The Transport Council also considered proposals for what the European Commission call “remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS)” or what we would call “drones” and their future use in a civilian context in an airspace open to general traffic. These are defined as “any aircraft and its associated elements, other than a balloon, kite or small aircraft which is intended to be operated with no pilot on board”. 

Ireland supports the Commission’s Communication published in April 2014 on opening the aviation market to the civil use of RPAS.  Given developments in recent years in the technology of RPAS, the Commission considers it timely that consideration be given on how RPAS operations should be addressed in a policy framework which will enable the development of a commercial RPAS market.

In Ireland, The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) has statutory responsibility for regulating safety standards in civil aviation, including RPAS.  The IAA published its policy and national legislation on the use of RPAS in October 2012. RPAS are used for a variety of tasks in Ireland including aerial photography and aerial survey. Additionally, the IAA has issued Registered Training Facility approval to four organisations seeking to become involved in the commercial use of RPAS in Ireland.

In the discussion at Transport Council, most Member States referenced concerns on safety, security and privacy issues with many countries claiming that any regulations should be kept simple and risk-based with no need for specific data protection legislation required for drones. 

The Council took note of a progress report on a proposed revision of the Single European Sky rules, aimed at speeding up the modernisation of EU air traffic management.

The Council also adopted a general approach on a draft directive on the cross-border exchange of information on road traffic offences.

The Council also looked at the outcome of the informal ministerial meeting in Milan last month regarding the Mid-Term Review of the Europe 2020 Strategy. The Presidency focused on how TEN-T and infrastructural investment can help economic development and how investment can help growth and boost economies and employment.

Priorities:

Having reviewed the functions and on-going work of the Department, the Ministerial Management Board within the Department last month agreed a number of Priorities for the Department over the remaining term of the Government. I would like to briefly set out for the Committee what these are. In doing so, it does not take away from the importance of many other necessary tasks that are ongoing within my Department as part of its statutory, regulatory, governance and other functions. 

The identified priorities will also be identified within the new Departmental Statement of Strategy that is currently being developed and for which the views of the public and other interested parties have been invited.

The Statement of Government Priorities agreed in July 2014 has two priorities for which my Department has lead role. These are the Cross City Luas Project and the publication of a new Tourism Strategy.

In relation to Luas, I am very pleased to say that the Luas Cross City project is on target and within budget.  The RPA is reviewing the tenders for the main infrastructure contract at the moment and I expect I will be in a position to authorise the signature of the contract early in the New Year.

Following testing, commissioning and trial runs, the line is expected to be operational by end 2017. The EIB has shown its endorsement for the project by approving a loan of €150m for it.

The second Government priority relevant to my Department is the publication of a new Tourism Policy.  The purpose of the review is to develop a policy statement, setting out the Government’s priorities in terms of:

o   the contribution tourism is to make to national economic and social goals,

o   how that contribution will be measured and benchmarked,  and

o   in what manner tourism can best make its contribution.

The Tourism Policy will also support tourism in rural areas and therefore the  sustainability of rural communities.

I am happy to say that, following a consultation process, the new Policy is on target for publication by year-end.

I should mention one other priority contained in the Government’s Statement of  Priorities which both I, and Ministers of State Phelan and Ring, regard as critical to the tourism sector and to sustainable jobs in rural communities. That is the need to ensure that the new model of 21st century apprenticeships is implemented during 2015. This priority is important to the future sustainability of the tourism sector in particular. As a nation we need to have structures in place to ensure the continuing availability of the right mix of skills and job opportunities to contribute to the growth and quality of our tourism services.  

In addition to the Government priorities, I have identified a number of other priorities and these are as follows.

Sports Campus: There has been considerable progress in the development of the National Sports Campus at Abbotstown in the last couple of years. New facilities opened in the past year include a world-class National Horse Sport Arena, a National Modern Pentathlon Centre and a National Diving Training Centre.  A Multi-Sport Synthetic Pitch facility was also completed and opened to the public last December. On-site accommodation has also been developed to allow athletes to live and train on Campus. In addition, the FAI and the GAA commenced work during the year on developing pitches for their sports at the Campus.

Work is continuing on the site with further significant developments underway. I am pleased to say that stimulus funding was provided by Government this year to develop a HQ for Special Olympics Ireland at the National Sports Campus. Planning permission has been sought and I look forward to seeing work commence on this project next year. 

National Ports Policy: As members will be aware, a New National Ports Policy was published in March 2013. The core objective of the Policy is to facilitate a competitive and effective market for maritime transport services.

National Ports Policy categorises the State commercial ports sector into –

·         Ports of National Significance Tier 1. These are Dublin, Cork and Shannon Foynes.

·         Ports of National Significance Tier 2  - Rosslare and Waterford.

·         Ports of Regional Significance - Drogheda, Dún Laoghaire, Galway, New Ross and Wicklow.

The Ports of National Significance are Ireland’s key international maritime gateways, handling approximately 90% of all tonnage, and are of significant importance in terms of our national competitiveness. The continued commercial development of the three Ports of National Significance is a key objective of National Ports Policy and all three Ports have masterplans in place setting out their development plans over the next 30 years. Both Dublin and Cork have planning applications with An Bord Pleanala.

Members will also be aware that in line with National Ports Policy I am bringing forward a new Harbours (Amendment) Bill which will allow for the transfer of control of Drogheda, Dún Laoghaire, Galway, New Ross and Wicklow ports to local authority control. The Bill will also improve the board appointment process to the ports through, for example, introducing mandatory skillsets. The Committee recently returned its report on the General Scheme of the Bill which was very useful in highlighting a number of issues for consideration as we develop the Bill.

I hope to publish the Bill by the end of Q1 2015 and look forward to engaging with the Committee during the parliamentary process.

National Aviation Policy: The Department embarked on the development of a new national aviation policy in December 2012. The last formal civil aviation policy was in 1994.  There have been huge developments both nationally and internationally in the intervening period and given the importance of aviation to Ireland, it was considered necessary to map out a policy framework to facilitate the continued growth and development of the sector in the medium term. There has been substantial public consultation to date that has informed the development of a new policy. It is intended to adopt and publish the new National Aviation Policy before the end of 2014.

How we pay for transport services and infrastructure now and in the future: The development of a Strategic Framework for Investment in Land Transport is being undertaken within the Department, led by a high-level Steering Group, which has drawn on national and international data and research, evidence from key stakeholders, and analysis and research both commissioned and carried out within the Department and its agencies.

This work was wide-ranging and included considering the link between economic growth and investment, establishing the cost of maintaining, managing and renewing land transport infrastructure and assets over time, and identifying future needs and where that demand will arise.

 

The evidence from these three key areas of work, along with an understanding of key transport and travel trends, consideration of the impact on travel demand of structural changes to the economy and of how to manage demand has provided the basis for a set of overall principles, proposed by the Steering Group, to guide investment decisions in transport over the longer term.  This is intended to ensure that future investment decisions in the transport sector will prioritise the projects which will offer the greatest economic and social return for the resources we can provide.

A significant gap still exists between the funding allocation for land transport and the funding levels required to maintain the existing system in adequate condition, even if all of the available funding is spent only on ‘steady state’.

Road Safety: One of my main priorities has to be road safety and a concentration on a significant reduction in the number of fatal collisions.  I have met some of the people injured and bereaved as a result of road traffic collisions and it is heartrending to listen to their stories.

The Road Safety Strategy 2013 — 2020 which was launched last year includes 144 actions to be implemented by the various agencies involved in order to build on the previous Strategies with the objective of making Ireland among the safest countries for road safety.  

The Road Traffic Act 2014, passed earlier this year, included provision for further Graduated Driver Licensing measures and increasing demerits for the most dangerous offences such as speeding and operating a mobile phone while driving. 

Budget 2015:

I would like to briefly mention measures contained in Budget 2015 that affect the sectors within my area of responsibility. The most significant measures from my perspective are the retention of the 9% VAT rate, the safeguarding of Public Service Obligation funding for public transport, the delivery of local regional and national roads maintenance and a new round of Sports Capital funding. 

The retention of the 9% VAT rate will be welcomed by those in tourism related industries. It is estimated that employment in the 9% VAT categories has increased by around 30,000 since the tax was first introduced and three years later its contribution is still being felt.

This measure contributes to our recent success in growing overseas visitor numbers, which have increased by 9.4% in the first eight months of the year. The allocation for overseas tourism marketing in 2015 will allow the tourism agencies to undertake substantial marketing activities and help to ensure that the upward momentum is maintained. 

Investment in our public transport system is essential to keep pace with a growing economy.   Targeted investment in our national, regional and local roads; the development of projects such as Luas Cross-City; and the maintenance of our rail network and upgrading of our bus fleet are all central to this. In line with a commitment given by me in recent months, I am happy to say that, in contrast to a trend of reducing PSO allocations in recent years, the level of Public Service Obligation for bus and rail services is being maintained at current levels of €210 million.

Additional to public transport, we are also continuing to invest in our roads network. The overall capital allocation of €893 million for land transport in 2015 is broadly unchanged compared to 2014, with €50 million, which was provided for in 2014 in once-off stimulus funding, being retained within the budget for next year.   A total of €598 million has been allocated for the maintenance and improvement of our national, regional and local roads, which is broadly unchanged compared to last year.

I am also delighted at the allocation of a further round of Sports Capital Programme funding this year. This is the third round of funding under this Government and will provide opportunities for clubs and organisations around the country to apply for funds.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the Chairman and Committee Members in affording me the time to report on the outcomes of the Transport Council and to set out my priorities for the transport, tourism and sport sectors. Since being appointed as Minister in this Department I have found the role to be immensely varied, interesting and demanding. I enjoy the challenges the role brings particularly in the knowledge that the sectors each have a key role to play both in the daily lives of people and also in contributing to employment and economic growth.

I welcome any questions the members may like to raise.

Ends

Date of Speech: 
Wednesday, 15 October 2014