Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Questions (1)

Robert Troy


1. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to deal with the financial shortfall in Iarnród Éireann in the capital budget for the rail network; his views on whether closing certain rail lines is a potential solution and his further views on establishing a multi-stakeholder forum to deliberate on and propose solutions to the financial difficulties. [42238/17]

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(Question to Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport)

The precarious financial position of Iarnród Éireann has been widely reported on. The Minister received a draft rail review report from the NTA around this time last year or possibly before then which stated that unless there was a serious cash injection for Iarnród Éireann, we would see widespread closures. There was also a reference to the possibility of a combination of closures and a cash injection. Will the Minister tell the House what the current state of play is in Iarnród Éireann? Does he envisage the closure of rail lines? On foot of the budget will there be increased funding for Iarnród Éireann?

The Deputy is aware that the taxpayer make a very large and recurring contribution each year to Iarnród Éireann. This contribution takes the form of both current, PSO, funding and capital funding under what is known as the infrastructure management multi-annual contract, IMMAC. In 2017 funding under the PSO and IMMAC programmes will cumulatively increase by over 17% when compared to 2016, bringing total funding to over €304 million.

Last year the National Transport Authority and larnród Éireann published the rail review report 2016, on which the NTA held a public consultation process. Over 300 submissions were received by the NTA in response to the consultation process. They have now all been examined and the NTA submitted a report on them to my Department last week. I will consider the report and then bring it to the Government. It is my intention that the report on the consultation process should be published by the NTA following consideration by the Government. In advance of that happening, no decisions have been taken on matters such as the future of individual rail lines or investment in the company and its relevant infrastructure.

As the Deputy is aware, I made a commitment to meet the trade unions once the industrial relations dispute at Bus Éireann was fully resolved. That meeting took place on 10 July and I found the exchange to be both useful and informative. I reiterated my wish to hold dialogue with all public transport stakeholders as my Department moved forward in its review of public transport policy in line with the commitment in the programme for Government. I requested each of the unions to make submissions to me on the format and issues that might be covered in the proposed dialogue. They expressed an eagerness to do so and I look forward to receiving the submissions. I would also welcome suggestions the Deputy or other Opposition spokespersons might have to make. If they would like to attend the forum, they are welcome to do so. Planning for the forum is at a preparatory stage, but I envisage a meaningful exchange of views on how we should shape the development of public transport policy in the next ten to 15 years.

Will the Minister outline how much of an increase in PSO and capital funding he has secured for thisyear? The draft rail review report clearly stated there was a need for an increase in funding of €640 million over a five-year period. We have a serious problem as the workers have not received an increase in over ten years. Negotiations are ongoing, but there is the potential for strikes. There is a serious issue related to capacity on rail lines. The number of carriages at different times has been reconfigured on some rail lines in my constituency to fill a gap. In other words, carriages were removed from early morning commuter trains and attached to later trains to fill a vacancy. Simply, insufficient money is being put into Iarnród Éireann to allow it to provide an efficient and effective service and passengers are the ones who are being compromised in that regard.

I thank the Deputy for telling me about the specific case he has brought to my attention. It would, however, be more appropriate to bring it to the attention of management in Iarnród Éireann. I will do so if the Deputy gives me the details of the case, particularly if it is in his constituency. I have not heard widespread reports of it happening around the country or being a systemic problem. In fact, it is the first complaint of that sort I have received from any Deputy, but I will certainly address it, if the Deputy gives me the details.

The PSO subvention is increasing. Last year Iarnród Éireann received 13% more than it had received in 2015, while this year the PSO subvention will increase by a further 10%, as the Deputy knows. To answer his question about budget 2018, I have secured an 8% increase in overall Exchequer funding for PSO services across the bus and rail networks. This means that over €285 million will be allocated in 2018 to support the delivery of these socially necessary but financially unviable services. It is, of course, an issue that requires careful scrutiny to ensure the taxpayer is receiving value for money in the services delivered, given the considerable expenditure incurred. As is normal, the precise allocations for the companies involved, including Iarnród Éireann, will be decided by the NTA in the exercise of its statutory mandate and in accordance with the various contract arrangements it has entered into with PSO service providers. Overall, PSO and capital funding for Iarnród Éireann this year is expected to reach €315 million.

I thank the Minister for the offer to make management aware of the issue I raised. I made it aware of it during the summer. The point I am making is that Iarnród Éireann does not have sufficient cash to meet demand on its rail lines. It does not have sufficient rolling stock as we have not invested significantly in the rail network.

If we do not do that we put the future viability of our rail network at risk.

I went to Brussels earlier this year and met officials at the Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport who made the point that we have not made any application for funding, as the Italians did, to invest in and improve our infrastructure and rail carriages.

When will the Minister publish the rail review? My party made a submission to it over 12 months ago. The review should be published and we should have a full and frank debate here. When will that happen? When will the Minister honour his commitment on the multi-stakeholder forum that he promised in advance of meeting trade unions but that has yet to be established?

We had a meeting of the multi-stakeholder forum on 10 July. It was a very successful and constructive meeting with representatives of all the unions, including the chief of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU. That resulted in an agreement that they would send suggestions to me about how the forum would work. I am awaiting some of those. I am absolutely committed to doing this. We will not be holding a stakeholder forum under the threat of a strike or industrial dispute. It would be inappropriate to do so because that would dominate the proceedings.

The purpose of the stakeholder forum is to hear the views of all those, particularly the workforce and management but also the National Transport Authority, NTA, and others, on the future of transport in this country. That will gel very well with the fact that the report and the public consultation on the rail review will come together and be considered by Government and by me. Decisions will be made on that basis. We have, however, to bear in mind the national planning framework when we make those decisions. It would be crazy to make decisions on the future of individual railway lines or rail in this country without considering the report of the national planning framework which is coming shortly.