Minister Ryan was not in attendance in the Dáil, with Minister of State Sean Fleming delivering a response on behalf of Minister Ryan.
MacSharry expressed his anger at the apparent shelving of the N17 project, after Minister Ryan told Sligo County Council members that funding would not be available for many years at a recent meeting in Sligo.
No official announcement has been made as of yet.
But, Minister Fleming did state: “It’s important that projects that are in the programme for government are implemented during the lifetime of this government.
“That is a government decision and not a decision for any particular group in the government. These programme for government commitments are government commitments involving all three parties.”
He added: “We have 15 cabinet posts, each are not individuals. There is collective responsibility. And it is important that Government decisions are implemented in practice.”
The full transcript of the Dáil exchange is below.
Deputy Marc MacSharry – I lament (Minister Ryan’s) his absence, I know he can’t be here everyday. I cannot understate the damage that he has been doing to already announced and budgeted for infrastructure plans such as the upgrade to the N17, one of the most dangerous national primary routes in the country. As you will know, this scheme is in design work since 2018, in August of that year the project appraisal plan was approved by the strategic research and analysis division of the minster’s own department. It was adjudged to be compliant with the public spending code and common appraisal framework. This led to TII’s approval to progress to planning and design of the scheme in accordance with their project management guidelines. The emerging preferred corridor for this scheme was released in January this year followed by a two month public consultation process. The scheme forms part of the TEN-T comprehensive network, from an EU perspective and is a core component of the Atlantic Economic Corridor. The upgrade will deliver on national policy including key strategic objectives and deliverables like Project Ireland 2040, the National Planning Framework and the National Development Plan. The project aligns with the national investment framework for transport in Ireland and the road safety strategy 2021-2030. God knows we’re awash with cash at this moment in time, and yet what we had recently was the minister attending at Sligo County Council where he met the CE, management team with some of the elected members and he outlined, and I’m quoting directly from a letter that was addressed to Kevin Kelly, the Chief Executive of Mayo County Council from his counterpart in Sligo. He outlined that the Minister said that there would be no funding available for this scheme for quote ‘many years’. This beggars belief at a time when wars in Europe, with a housing crisis here all over the country, with our commitments to our international colleagues for help and all of the rest of it, that we have an Eastern conurbation that is set to explode. The disruption that’s caused by traffic, by the fact that we’re so congested in this part of the country where I stand tonight, is going to cost the nation 3 billion per year by 2030. And yet, because of the Green ideology of a very nice man that is Minister Ryan, as a great old lady in Sligo Rosie Kelly used to say ‘the country’s full of lovely fellas, it’s leaders we need’. Sligo was where Project Ireland 2040 was announced. And what we’re doing now is permitting one minister in government, and I asked here at QPL, some three or four weeks ago, do Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil parties in Government support Minister Ryan and the Green Party’s unilateral sabotage of these already announced and budgeted for national policies. Suspending them in effect, indefinitely, to undermine the momentum and the potential for the western seaboard to perform to its potential in the first instance, but to offer a real counter-balance to the eastern conurbation and congestion.
Minister Sean Fleming – As the Deputy will be aware, I am answering today on behalf of Minister Eamon Ryan who unfortunately cannot be here in person. The Minister for Transport has responsibility for overall policy and exchequer funding in relation to national roads programme. Once funding arrangements have been put in place with Transport Infrastructure Ireland under the roads act and in line with the National Development Plan, the planning and design improvement and upgrading of national roads is a matter for TII in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. TII ultimately delivers the National Roads Programme in line with Project Ireland 2040 and the National Planning Framework and the National Development Plan. Approximately €491m of exchequer funding in capital funds has been provided for national roads through TII to local authorities in this current year. These allocations were announced by the department on the 16th of February 2023. The N17 Knock to Collooney scheme has been identified in the National Development Plan. TII have been working to progress this scheme through planning, design and construction. Minister Ryan met recently with Sligo County Council on a number of issues and this project was one of the topics discussed. I can confirm that €400,000 has been allocated for the N17 Knock to Collooney scheme in 2023. The close out of the route options selection reporting is ongoing, and an emerging preferred corridor is expected to be completed in Q3 2023. Additional tasks including traffic modelling, and reporting are also ongoing. As with the National Roads Project in the National Development Plan, the delivery programme for the project will be kept under review for 2024. The scheme remains part of the National Development Plan, and will be considered in terms of the overall funding available to TII in future years. Basically, once there is a commitment for the €400,000 for this calendar year it is vital, I think in the interests of the tax-payer and especially road-users and people who are used to travelling on the road which is not safe, that when funding is invested at €400,000 this year, in relation to the scheme that we get the benefit of that funding and continue with the actual scheme in the coming years. The proposed project assists the delivery of high quality road networks linking the atlantic corridor, linking Cork, Limerick, Galway and Sligo and it’s important that projects that are in the programme for government are implemented during the lifetime of this government. That is a government decision and not a decision for any particular group in the government. These programme for government commitments are government commitments involving all three parties and the project probides enhanced regional accessibility and also access to the international market via Ireland West Aiprot Knock. And through the provision of improved infrastructure, the project will support commercial growth and investment in the area including at the Knock Airport Strategic Development Zone which I know the Deputy will be very keen to ensure that happened for the development of the region both in this particular road project will involve County Sligo and County Mayo. The proposed project will remove traffic from a number of towns and villages and will have positive social and environmental impacts on local residents and road users will benefit from improved journey times, certainty and in addition the project provides an opportunity to introduce active transport facilities and encourage physical activity in the area.
Deputy MacSharry – Minister, it’s still in the National Development Plan. That means nothing, as we know. In the 40s, in the National Development Plan was draining the Shannon and we still haven’t done it. It means nothing. €400,000 is derisory, it wouldn’t cut the grass verges on the N17 as it is at the moment. The fact is, in writing, on front of me is one Chief Executive in Sligo County Council communicating with his counterpart in Mayo telling him, outlining that the Minister said that there would be no funding available for this scheme for many years. The people of the western seaboard are a little bit sick of the fact that it’s the chosen location for the launch of Ireland 2040, Galway is regularly chosen for other launches, Mayo is regularly chosen for other launches. It was good enough for Biden to come to Ballina or Knock or wherever else. But when it comes to implementing the Programme for Government, your Programme for Government, indeed I was in the room for part of it, here we have in effect Minister Ryan dragging Fianna Fail and Fine Gael round this house in line with his chosen and preferred version of what he would have liked the Programme for Government to be, and I know that Mayo, Galway, Sligo and Limerick and various other members in this house from all parties, are apoplectic with the fact that this minister, this is not personal, but when it comes to the policies that are agreed by yourselves, running around like a headless chicken dreaming what he would have liked to have seen rather than what ye agreed. Meanwhile, there are hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people on the western seaboard who need this road from a safety capacity, I’ve also outlined the beginning, why it makes economic sense to at least invest in some sort of counterbalance to what is increasingly an eastern conurbation that is beyond congestion.
Minister Fleming – One factor that doesn’t get factored in sufficiently into these areas is the number of deaths and lives an improved road infrastructure would save. We often talk about the cost and cost benefit, but you can’t be putting a cost on people’s lives who are killed or end up in traffic accidents as a result of maybe unsatisfactory roads that are not capable for the volume of traffic on the road. It’s important that they are issues we bear in mind. In the Programme for Government there are commitments in relation to the road, rail infrastructure, active travel, bus services, cycling and walking. It’s incumbent on us in Government to ensure that allocations within these areas are spent and fully utilised. I shouldn’t use the word spend, it should be ‘investing’ in these facilities. It’s important that there’s no imbalance in spending in the various headings I’ve mentioned to suit individual parties in the Government and that what’s agreed by the Government is implemented by the line minister. We have 15 cabinet posts, each are not individuals. There is collective responsibility. And it is important that Government decisions are implemented in practice. I understand what the Deputy said when he quoted the letter that there will be no funding available for a long time yet, I don’t know the specifics of that, whether he’s talking about the final construction, or the planning or the CPO if that’s required for some land acquisition. I will raise the issues that Deputy MacSharry has raised here today with my party leader and other party leaders.