Roads Bill 2014

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill and congratulate the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, on bringing the legislation before the House. It is another effort to use public moneys more efficiently and thus become more cost effective.
The move to merge and rebrand the NRA and the RPA as the transport infrastructure service, or agency, will greatly increase efficiency and reduce costs by avoiding a duplication of resources and the in-house expertise of both agencies.
The new transport infrastructure agency is a merger of two existing, well functioning bodies. Their merger represents the most efficient use of our financial resources. In addition, it is a clear illustration of the Minister’s, and this Government’s, commitment to abolish the proliferation of State agencies and enhancing their democratic accountability.
It is expected that the pooling of resources and expertise will increase in-house capabilities and reduce the agency’s reliance on external consultants, thereby saving on costs. That is a critical point. I admire the highly qualified and independent Civil Service in this country, including local authority staff. They are people of the highest calibre who are independent of all political parties. I am always amazed by the degree to which consultants have to be brought in to supplement their work. Any effort to reduce that bill is welcome.
The McCarthy report, which recommended this merger in 2009, predicted it would generate savings in the region of €3 million to €4 million, as well as an overall reduction in the level of Exchequer funding. It is a significant saving for very necessary services. The McCarthy report was independent of any Government party so it provides a good benchmark. The merger will follow other largely successful efforts by the Minister to increase the efficiency and democratic accountability of State agencies. These include the merger of Dublin Tourism into Fáilte Ireland and the amalgamation of Dundalk and Dublin ports.
There are currently 40 fewer State agencies than three years ago. This is something to be commended and this particular piece of legislation represents an addition to the list. I agree with the last speaker that we need fewer such bodies. Given the considerable savings involved, this is an important starting point in achieving such efficiencies.
I welcome the inclusion of section 13 of the Bill, which ensures that the staff of the dissolved body will be retained with no threat to their remuneration or superannuation scheme. All their conditions therefore will remain in place, which is only as it should be. I also welcome the Minister’s reassurances on that point.
Section 17 provides that the NRA will undertake procurement of goods and services on behalf of road authorities, in relation to regional and local roads, at the request of the Minister. In that context, it is vital that the expertise and knowledge within our local authorities remain at centre stage. The expertise of local authority engineering staff should be used to the maximum extent.
This section will also allow the agency, which will be armed with a combination of specialist skills and technical expertise, to compete for external contracts on a commercial basis.

I welcome the clause providing that the Minister has the final say on when and where the procurement will take place, ensuring an important level of accountability and transparency. Section 18 follows on a similar theme to the previous one, whereby it gives the new agency the additional capacity to interact with local government in the provision of services and in an advisory capacity on various issues such as planning and traffic management. The roads section in the Cavan local authority has an excellent service record and I know it will embrace this new change and collaborate successfully with the new transport infrastructure service. Having said that, I want a ministerial assurance in the concluding remarks that there will be no diminution of the input of the local authority and the in-house expertise it has accumulated. That should be the foremost resource in dealing with roads.
In part 4, section 25 states that the Minister has the power to request that the NRA make grant assistance from money sanctioned by the Oireachtas available to local authorities for local and regional roads. This year, County Cavan received €9,137,150 from the Department in funding for regional and local roads. When compared to last year’s figures, there is a small reduction in the overall figure. I am anxious that the Minister give an assurance that Cavan will receive an additional allocation later in the year, as was received in previous years. Cavan County Council has an excellent track record of the good use of these resources and the efficient development of services. I will refer later to the absence of a railway and other means of transport. Cavan County Council has an excellent track record in appropriating an adequate amount of resources towards various road projects throughout the county. However, the recent inclement weather has impacted upon road conditions throughout the county and it strengthens our case for a top-up or a second allocation this year.
In addition to the weather, we just do not have rail. The railway systems in the county were dismantled. Recently, successful agribusiness and intensive farming have emerged, and while they are very welcome, they place an extra strain on the road structure which must be factored in. It is important economic activity from the point of view of the creation of employment and it should be supported.
The NRA is currently engaged on a number of key projects under the Government’s capital investment programme and I know that the Minister is committed to them. The east-west link, which would link Greenore, near Dundalk, to Sligo, is dear to my heart. County Cavan is the lead authority for the development and delivery of the project. It is a 75 km project and is estimated to cost somewhere in the region of €150 million. It has received a significant level of Government investment since 2007, over €2 million, and this has brought the project up to preliminary design stage. This year it received an extra €100,000, but I would like a commitment in the Minister’s reply that the infrastructure, which is critical to industrial and regional development in the area, will be given priority and that funding will be granted to the east-west link when it is available. It is vital to Abbott Ireland in Cootehill and Carton Brothers in Shercock, County Cavan, an employer of over 600 people. These employers are critical in an area that does not attract inward investment as easily as larger metropolitan areas. For that reason, I consider it vital expenditure and I would like to hear the Minister comment on the prospects for the east-west link in his final reply.
I welcome this Bill as it will create efficiencies and savings of up to €4 million in administrative costs. I hope that within this the local authorities play a vital role, as they have to date, and that it will be in no way diminished. I hope that in the ministerial reply there will be good news for County Cavan and the constituency of Cavan-Monaghan in respect of further allocations during the year and the vital infrastructural project that is the east-west link. It was so sad that we lost the railway network. The only way we can make do until we restore it is to get the infrastructural support we need.

Senator Joe O'Reilly representing Cavan & Monaghan 2010. | An ExSite website