10. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet Committee D (Infrastructure) last met. (Question 19088/18 asked on 01 May 2018)

The Taoiseach: I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 to 10, inclusive, together.

Cabinet Committee D last met on 1 February 2018. The next meeting of the committee has been scheduled for 8 May next. The overall objective of Cabinet Committee D on infrastructure is to ensure a co-ordinated approach to the development and implementation of policy regarding housing, infrastructure investment and delivery, climate action and the delivery of Project Ireland 2040. Project Ireland 2040 is the overarching policy and planning framework for the social, economic and cultural development of our country. It includes the 20 year 2040 national planning framework, backed up by a €116 billion capital investment plan for the period from 2018 to 2027. The plan was launched in Sligo on 16 February last. My Department’s main contribution to the plan was through the policy-making process. My senior officials and advisers were involved in formulating policy and drafting the text of the plan. As well as the launch in Sligo, I attended regional events in Waterford, Cork, Limerick and Galway. In addition, I attended the launch of the first of the sector-specific events, which was held on 10 April last and focused on investing in our culture, language and heritage, with some €1.2 billion to be invested in our culture, arts and heritage infrastructure over the next ten years. I have plans to attend two more sector-specific events, focusing on rural and climate action, in the near future.

The implementation of Project Ireland 2040 is being overseen by the Project Ireland 2040 delivery board, which is jointly chaired by the Secretaries General of the Departments of Public Expenditure and Reform and Housing, Planning and Local Government. The delivery board will have responsibility for the communications strategy for Project Ireland 2040. This work will transition from my Department to the board by July. An investment projects and programmes office is being established in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to co-ordinate and drive the delivery of Project Ireland 2040.

4 o’clock

As with all major policy initiatives, my Department will support and participate in the delivery of Project Ireland 2040. Both Cabinet committee D and the full Government will review progress on a regular basis.

Deputy Joan Burton: Will the Taoiseach tell us if the Government proposes to have the national planning framework enacted in law? If it does not propose to have it enacted in law, what is the reason? Unless it is enacted in law, there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that much of it will be implemented. Inevitably, it will cover the lifetime of three, four or five Governments, depending on how long they last. Perhaps it will be more.

The Taoiseach indicated that he seems to be undertaking a roadshow across the country, attending many stage-managed events in third level institutions. He mentioned Sligo, Limerick and Galway, all of which have third level educational institutions. Who chooses the questions to be asked at these events or can students and others who attend these events ask anything they want? It seems the questions from people attending these events are slightly staged.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Never.

Deputy Joan Burton: Is there an official policy to ensure all local councillors and Deputies with an interest in their areas can be invited to such events? I asked the Taoiseach about the North because we would not have expected Mr. Jeffrey Donaldson, MP, to get angry about local representatives in the North not being invited to the Taoiseach’s event yesterday. He said the way the Taoiseach behaved showed poor manners and disrespect because no local representative was informed and none of the other normal local protocols was followed. That was reported in today’s Irish News. People from all the political parties in the North will say there is a regular protocol, as there has been in the Republic, where public representatives are invited to events. The Taoiseach seems to want to exclude them.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: I will raise something different with the Taoiseach relating to Project Ireland 2040, specifically the construction of MetroLink. There is a general acceptance that this is a positive proposal and the infrastructure is long overdue. I raise with the Taoiseach the so-called emerging preferred route and the impact it will have specifically in Glasnevin, more specifically on St. Mobhi Road and more specifically again on Scoil Chaitríona, Scoil Mobhí and Na Fianna GAA club. Putting my cards on the table, this is not “nimbyism” and I do not live in the direct vicinity but my daughter is a student at Scoil Chaitríona. I attended a meeting there last evening where the parents gathered.

The problem is that notice of the construction of a station and boring holes that are massive in dimension was unceremoniously delivered to the desks of the GAA club and the respective schools. There was absolutely no consideration of the fact that the proposal is to put a massive building site alongside two schools, a scoil lán-Ghaeilge and Scoil Mobhí, a bunscoil. There is a naíonra as well in the vicinity. Representatives of Na Fianna and the schools were before the Oireachtas committee and they set out the massive disruption and the threat to the health and safety of very young children that this would represent.

This is Bliain na Gaeilge and in that part of Glasnevin almost a breac-Ghaeltacht has grown up, almost organically, between the games, the language and the schools. There is a deep resentment among parents and residents that all of this is to be disrupted. I bring this to the Taoiseach’s attention because he is a Dubliner and I am sure he knows Glasnevin pretty well. I know he is also keen on Gaeilge. I would like to hear his response.

Deputy Micheál Martin: There is much to discuss in the short time I have and I will not be able to get around to all of it. The national development plan involved a significant tour of the country. University heads and those in institutes of technology love to greet members of the Government in the forlorn hope that the visit and their hospitality would be followed by numerous grants from the Government. Billions of euro have been promised all over the country and part of this relates to the metro project. I have visited Na Fianna and Home Farm and the two local schools are also seeing an impact. Many of these projects have had no serious in-depth cost appraisal or analysis, and some serious economists have pointed out that despite the promises, there has only been a cursory economic analysis of things like the metro and other big projects. There were promises without any great analysis. I was once advised by a very wise city manager who has passed to his eternal reward that one must be very careful of engineers planning, as they tend to go as the crow flies and they do not very often look at what is in the way.

What is striking about Na Fianna is the extraordinary human resource, cultural, community and sporting endeavour that it represents. It has 3,000 members and is on 11 sites but this is its home. It is not just a GAA club but it is a community centre. It is the hub of the entire community. The value of voluntary human endeavour, which civilises a society and ensures an esprit de corps in communities, would be wiped out without a moment’s thought by a proposal such as the metro. It is extraordinary that in the Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, analysis, this area is not even identified as an obstacle. There are six major obstacles identified ahead of the plan but this is not identified as such. Home Farm has a pitch adjacent to the site. It needs a more holistic appraisal by the Government, and the Government must discuss this with TII and argue that it should go back to the drawing board and reconsider the options, and most notably this option. It has an impact on so much human capital. We have gone on about this in the north inner city and there is a project team dealing with the importance of human capital. This project would wipe that to naught and utterly destroy that human capital for a long time to come.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: The Taoiseach mentioned the expenditure planned in arts, heritage and culture in Project Ireland 2040. Did the committee discuss the absolutely shameful decision to sell the State’s share in what are effectively the national film studios? They are both an important part of Ireland’s cultural and film heritage and an important location for developing the film industry. Over the past number of weeks it was barely reported and seems not to have been discussed at all.

The Comptroller and Auditor General must investigate the circumstances of the sale. When it was first mooted there might be a sale, the estimated value of the Government’s share was €15 million. It has been reported in the press that the sale took place for €6 million but as part of the sale, €7 million in debt owed by Ardmore was written off, meaning we gave away the State’s share in Ardmore for nothing and gave the purchasers €1 million on top of that. The purchaser was a company set up three to four weeks before the sale went through. It did not have a history of involvement in the film industry, although some of the people involved are connected with a rival studio in Limerick. Frankly, this stinks to high heaven, particularly when six of Ardmore’s seven purpose-built stages have been empty for a period when there is supposed to be a lack of capacity in the Irish film industry. Films are being made in derelict NAMA buildings on the South Circular Road and Tallaght, where there have been major protests and disputes by film workers about the conditions in which they work. The State’s studio, meanwhile, has been sitting empty and then we flogged the share. It is extraordinary stuff. I could say more, but I do not have time. What is going on? Grants given by the Irish Film Board are never repaid. There are serious matters that need to be looked into in this area.

The Taoiseach: I am afraid that I do not have any information on the sale of Ardmore Studios. The Deputy may wish to raise the matter with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: I did, but I got no answers.

The Taoiseach: It is not the policy of the State to own film studios.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: We did for 50 years.

The Taoiseach: We see the role of the State as providing public services and infrastructure.

To respond to the questions asked initially by Deputy Joan Burton, it is intended to place the national planning framework on a statutory footing, but I do not have a date in that regard. I understand primary legislation has to be passed first. I am not sure if it has yet been passed. However, the sequence is that it has to be passed and then the Minister can put the framework on a statutory footing. That is what is intended. One of the reasons the national spatial strategy failed was that it did not have statutory underpinning. We want to make sure we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. That is why the national planning framework will be placed on a statutory footing.

Yes, it is correct - I admit that I have been touring the country. I enjoy doing so and hope to continue to do so. It is great to get out of Dublin.

Deputy Micheál Martin: The Taoiseach is promising billions.

The Taoiseach: I try to get out of Dublin as soon as I can and around the country as much as I can. We will be following up this week on Project Ireland 2040 with an announcement of important flood relief works throughout the country. We hope to be able to start opening some of the funds this month - the urban regeneration fund and the rural regeneration fund - that are included in the national planning framework and Project Ireland 2040. We want to open them to applications very soon and hope to make an announcement in that regard in the next couple of weeks. I reassure Deputies I do not choose the questions asked at these events. I do not know who does. In Sligo the questions were placed. However, they have not been since. In Waterford I was asked about the issue of 24/7 cardiac care services and the catheterisation laboratory. In Galway I was asked about student fees. The questions have been diverse and often not related directly to Project Ireland 2040. I assume they are not written by anyone in my Department, but it is correct that in Sligo they were placed. However, that has not been the case since.

On protocol, if I travel to another jurisdiction, I inform the government in that jurisdiction. If I travel to Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Office is informed. That is the protocol and it is always followed, at the very least for security reasons. I will make low key visits, as appropriate. I honestly do not believe every time I visit some part of the country or some other country that it is necessary for me to be always surrounded by officials, public representatives and the media pack. It is good that I can make low key visits to schools, hospitals, ports, etc. I hope people will understand why I want to do so. I have done it before on a previous visit to Northern Ireland when I attended the Pride festival and breakfast. I am not sure if some of the people who have been criticising me might like to attend the Pride breakfast with me next year. I would very much welcome it, if they wished to do so.

I have to say I am a big supporter of MetroLink. In 2011 it was with deep regret that the project had to be postponed. It was my decision as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to postpone it because we could not afford it at the time. I am often criticised in other parts of the country for delaying and postponing transport projects. The biggest one I postponed was the one that affected my constituency. I refer to Metro North and Metro West. It was a difficult decision, but it had to be done, given the state of the country’s finances at the time. The new proposal is even better. It is no longer Metro North but Metro north and south, going all the way from Lissenhall-----

Deputy John Lahart: Deputy Shane Ross

The Taoiseach: -----to north of Swords, serving Swords, Santry, Ballymun, DCU and the north inner city and all the way through to the southside.

Deputy John Lahart: Dublin Rathdown.

The Taoiseach: It is a really good project and I look forward to seeing the completion of construction by 2027. On the specific issues raised by the Deputies, it affects Na Fianna, Scoil Chaitríona and Home Farm and I am very concerned. I share the concerns of leaders and other Deputies, not least the Minister for Finance, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, about the emerging preferred route which would do enormous damage to Na Fianna and Home Farm, as well as to Scoil Chaitríona. There is a planning process that involves a railway order, but my message to the National Transport Authority and Transport Infrastructure Ireland would be to find an alternative option to digging up this important club which is the heart and soul of the community in that part of Dublin.