Statement to the Joint Oireachtas Committee – Mid-Year Review and look ahead to 2016

30th September, 2015

Good morning everyone – I am delighted to have this opportunity today to provide the Committee with an update on the progress to date in 2015 and identify some of the key issues emerging for 2016, particularly in the context of my Department’s budgetary needs for 2016 and beyond.


As you all know, the tourism and transport sectors have proven track records in creating employment and driving growth in the economy. Sport also has a vital economic role to play along with the obvious societal benefits. My Department’s investment programme is underpinning these efforts. With an overall budget allocation of €1.6 billion, we have the funding to target investment in our transport network, support our tourism sector and promote sport to drive our country forward.




In terms of progress on the expenditure front, I can report that the Department is spending within the limits set for it in 2015. There are obviously pressures across the board. As the economy recovers, the demand for increased expenditure in all sectors of the Department grows.



For the last three years, we have benefitted from significant additional funding voted in-year by way of Stimulus and Supplementary funding to address these pressure.


This year will be no exception and I look forward to coming back to you in the coming months to present full details of an additional €100m in supplementary funding for the Department which I have secured. This funding will be used to address the very real and urgent demands that are emerging as the Irish economy ramps up and the associated traffic levels increase. This is a clear recognition of the priority Government attaches to transport investment in particular.




80% of my overall budget goes towards the land transport programme, a large portion of which is capital investment. Fiscal constraints over the last number of years have meant that the funding available for the land transport programme falls short of where it needs to be.  This summer I published a Report entitled Investment in our Transport Future. The report correctly identifies where the priorities are for land transport investment over the next decade.


It also estimates the level of funding required to maintain our existing transport network, both road and rail infrastructure and public transport, to the required standard.  The estimate is €1.3bn annually.


Addressing the projected growth in transport demand needs careful planning, analysis and investment. In a tighter fiscal space, the need for smart evidence based decision-making is even more critical. The report provides a very solid evidence base for prioritising the constrained funding we have available for land transport.


The key challenge this report presents to me as Minister for Transport is to secure the right level of investment.  As I outlined yesterday at the launch of the Capital Plan, we are planning to meet that challenge over the next 7 years, with annual investment in land transport rising from just over €1 billion last year to €1.9 billion by 2022



In terms of progress achieved in 2015, I am happy to report expenditure of the capital envelope of €967m million is very much on profile across all programmes.   I have also secured an additional allocation of €100m which I will bring to this Committee formally by way of a Supplementary estimate later this year. This will address the key pressures that are arising particularly in the public transport, rail infrastructure and roads programmes.


With this funding, we are seeing continued progress on our PPP programme including the completion of the N7 / N11 Arklow to Rathnew. This PPP project also includes the provision of a new Motorway Service Area on the Gorey by-pass. Construction work has commenced on the 57 km motorway / dual carriageway PPP project on the N17/18 from Gort to Tuam.


Significant progress is being made on the local and regional roads programme, with spend on this €250m million budget on profile. This programme is essential to the economic development of rural communities and ensuring regional connectivity.


Public transport was allocated €270m in capital funding and here again I am pleased to report good progress. This year’s allocation will ensure continued progress on LUAS Cross City. A rolling programme of PSO bus replacement continues apace. A programme of bus priority measures and improvements to bus stops and shelters is also well underway.


Funding will also improve the efficiency and capacity of the rail network, by supporting the city centre re-signalling programme to facilitate the opening of the Phoenix Park Tunnel and addressing congestion bottlenecks.


Looking to 2016, the Capital Plan provides for additional funding for roads, rail infrastructure and public transport investment, ensuring we increase steady state levels to maintain the existing infrastructure and rolling stock, and begin delivering modest but important improvements to passenger transport user, the freight sector and private car users.


Given competing demands across the system next year and the continuing need for restraint, the challenge for 2016 will be to maintain existing levels of funding for key programmes and seek modest increases where these are justified and represent value for money.


A key priority in this regard will be to ensure funding for public service obligations is at a level that provides for the increased level of demands being placed on our public transport system.  I have already secured significant additional funding for this purpose both this year and last year. I am hopeful that this trend will continue.


Progress in other policy areas

The remaining 20% of my budget is geared towards expenditure programmes associated with tourism, sport, aviation and maritime policies. In that context, I am happy to report significant policy developments in all four sectors in over the first 9 months of the year.



Tourism is one of our largest indigenous industries, deeply rooted in the fabric of Irish society, employing 200,000 people across the country.  There were 7.6 million overseas visits to Ireland in 2014, an increase of almost 9% on the previous year. This strong performance has continued.  Figures for the first eight months of 2015 show further growth of 12.2% in overseas visits to Ireland and indeed it seems that 2015 will break all previous records in terms of the numbers visiting our shores.


While this performance is very encouraging, we are determined that the growth will continue in to the future. With this in mind, we announced a new Tourism Policy. “People, Place and Policy – Growing Tourism to 2025” which sets out a number of key headline goals for 2025:


  • Revenue from overseas tourism, excluding carrier receipts (air fares and ferry charges) will be €5 billion per year. The comparable figure for 2014 is €3.5 billion.
  • Employment in tourism will reach 250,000 from 200,000 now;
  • 10 million overseas visits to Ireland annually by 2025, compared to an estimated 7.3million in 2014.


In July 2015, I established the Tourism Leadership Group which I chair. The Group is drafting a Tourism Action Plan to 2018 to achieve the objectives set out.  I intend to publish that Action Plan early next year.


A strong Exchequer funding commitment to the sector is key to achieving these objectives. The tourism programme provides for operational costs of both Failte and Tourism Ireland, their marketing spend, business supports programme and a significant capital programme for initiatives such as the Wild Atlantic Way and Ireland’s Ancient East.


The Capital Plan announced yesterday provides for over €130m in tourism capital investment over the next 7 years.  The will primarily focus on initiatives of sufficient scale to stand out in the international marketplace, namely, the development of the experience brands like the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland’s Ancient East and Dublin.



More recently, I launched a new National Aviation Policy in August. Like the tourism policy, this followed an extensive consultation process which commenced in 2013.  The policy contains a comprehensive list of actions (73 in total) which are designed to ensure that the right conditions exist for a flourishing aviation sector into the future.


The implementation of the actions will facilitate the expansion of the industry, help make it more competitive, tackle barriers to growth, facilitate the development of new air transport links and maintain Ireland’s leading global position in the aircraft leasing and aviation finance sectors.


By 2020, the Department expects that Irish airports will handle in the region of 33 million passengers – this will be a key benchmark for measuring the development of the sector generally.  Such growth will lead to some job creation within the sector but will also facilitate growth across the economy.


The main policies and actions to be implemented under the National Aviation Policy are:


  • Maintain safety as the number one priority for the Irish aviation sector;
  • Seek greater connectivity, especially with emerging markets. We will pursue this aim by both supporting EU efforts for new Open Skies Agreements and also by expanding our range of bilateral aviation agreements, including granting fifth freedom rights where needed to generate new routes;
  • Ensure a high level of competition between airlines operating in the Irish market including supporting measures such as the maintenance of a zero-rated travel tax regime, the development of preclearance facilities at Dublin and Shannon Airports and also by ensuring an appropriate airport charges regulatory regime ;
  • Keep Dublin, Cork and Shannon Airports in State ownership. Their ownership and operational structures will be reviewed every five years;
  • With more clearly defined roles, seek to capitalise on the distinct geographic and infrastructure characteristics of each of these three airports. In particular,  facilitated by necessary investments in new infrastructure to meet projected traffic growth,  Dublin Airport will be promoted as a secondary hub airport and the roles of Cork and Shannon Airports as tourism and business gateways in their respective regions will be supported;
  • Support the Regional Airports in line with the recent EU-approved  Regional Airports Programme, which runs from 2015 to 2019;
  • Maintain Ireland’s attractiveness as a base for aircraft leasing;
  • Undertake an independent review of the regulatory regime for airport charges by the end  of this year and the future policy on airport charges regulation will be finalised by mid-2016; and
  • Establish a National Aviation Development Forum, led by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, in order to consult with the industry on the development of the international regulatory agenda for aviation and to coordinate the promotion of Irish aviation.


The budgetary element of the aviation programme, while modest, is vital as a policy lever particularly in relation to the development of regional connectivity. As regards the Regional Airports Programme, the capital plan announced yesterday will provide €28m over 7 years to ensure the new programmes start on a solid footing.



There are various strands to maritime policy, both as an economic driver but also ensuring maritime safety is secured. My predecessor, Minister Varadkar launched the new National Ports Policy last year. We are now implementing this. In that regard, the Harbours Bill 2015 was published in July 2015, completed Second Stage in the Dail and will shortly come here for Committee Stage. The primary purpose of the Bill is to facilitate the later transfer of Drogheda, Dún Laoghaire, Galway, New Ross and Wicklow port companies to local authority control. The Bill will also make a number of improvements to the board appointment process for the port companies. The policy also commits to the development of a performance measurement system for the Ports of National Significance.


On the safety front, I launched a new Maritime Safety Strategy to 2019 last  April. The theme of which is ‘Make Time for Maritime Safety”.  The new Strategy was developed following a consultation with key stakeholders and the general public and includes an analysis of the factors contributing to maritime fatalities in Ireland.


The 33 actions outlined in the report are grouped under five over-arching strategic objectives; Information and Communication, Search and Rescue Operations, Standards, Enforcement, Data and Evaluation.


They are centred on promoting personal responsibility for maritime safety, improving search and rescue, and implementing preventative measures, including a robust inspection and regulatory framework, and an enhanced enforcement regime. They are designed, in a holistic way, to tackle the factors contributing to maritime fatalities and to ultimately reduce in the number of lives lost in the maritime sector.


From a funding perspective, the key elements of the maritime programme relate to continued support for the Irish Coast Guard service, the Commissioner for Irish Lights programme and residual elements of the harbours programme.


The Irish Coast Guard service requires a strong resource commitment on the part of the Exchequer. The SAR helicopter has seen a step change in the quality of service on offer and that will remain a priority. Future developments in IT will also ensure the Coast Guard service remains best in class internationally.



From a somewhat broader perspective, this Government has also committed to an overarching Smarter Travel policy.  Published in 2009 to cover the period to 2020, this has been pertinent to embedding the principles of sustainability into all aspects of transport policy.  Under this policy, good progress has been made in relation to the delivery of many infrastructure and behavioural change programmes, such as Active Travel Towns, Smarter Travel Areas and Smarter Travel Workplaces, to name but a few.


These types of programmes are seeking to influence the travel choices that people make.  Optimising our choices in favour of sustainable modes, such as walking, cycling and public transport, will be a key element towards our goal of achieving a low carbon transport sector for Ireland.


In that context, my Department has initiated work on the transport sector’s contribution to the National Mitigation Plan.  Further to early stakeholder engagement in 2014, my Department held an information exchange for stakeholders in May this year.  This level of consultation is helping to inform the measures that will be included in the final Plan.


On a related matter, my Department has also made good progress this year in work associated with a climate change adaptation plan for the sector.


It is also timely to note that I am initiating a period of early consultation this week on Ireland’s first national policy framework on alternative fuels for transport aimed at supporting the provision of refuelling infrastructure for alternative fuels, common technical standards and appropriate consumer/user information.   I expect the duration for this period of consultation to be 6 weeks.




There has been good progress in the development of the sports sector over the course of 2015.  The Sport Ireland Act 2015 was enacted on 13 May 2015. The Act provides for the establishment of Sport Ireland, a new organisation which will merge the Irish Sports Council and the National Sports Campus Development Authority.


We expect that Sport Ireland will be established shortly, when the necessary arrangements have been finalised.  The merger represents a significant milestone in the Government’s agency rationalisation programme.


Work on the construction of the National Indoor Arena at the National Sports Campus got underway in February and is scheduled for completion by November 2016. The Arena will consist of three main indoor training centres:

A National Indoor Athletics Training Centre, which will include a 200 metre track, sprint track, jump and throw areas and seating for up to 1,900 spectators.

A National Indoor Training Centre capable of accommodating numerous sports in a variety of configurations for both training and competition use. And,

a National Gymnastics Training Centre.


These facilities will provide a first-class environment in which athletes at all levels from over 20 sports will be able to train and compete.


The cost of the project is just over €38m.  Total expenditure on the development this year should reach over €23m.


As I have done in other sectors under my remit, I am keen to develop a new National Sports Policy which will set the framework for sport in Ireland over the next ten years and the policy agenda for the new Sport Ireland.  It will also examine cross-sectoral issues such as the role of sport in education and health and where the focus of Government spending in sport should be.


I will host a consultation with sports stakeholders shortly to seek their views on the development of the National Sports Policy Framework. Obviously, I would very much welcome the views of this Committee on this policy framework.


On the expenditure side, major components in existing sports programme are the Sports Capital Programme and Local Authority Swimming Pools programme.   Minister of State Ring launched a new round of sports capital funding earlier this year.  Spend under this programme is very much ahead of target and reflects the strong level of interest and the increased capacity at a local community and club level to enhance their sports facilities.


Spend under the swimming pools programme is behind profile somewhat owing in large part to delays in local authorities constructing/refurbishing pools.  The Irish Sports Council continues to deliver a wide range of programmes aimed at increasing participation in sport and supporting elite athletes, particularly in the run up to the 2016 RIO Olympics.



To conclude, we are making good progress across all the programmes under my Department’s remit. Spend is on profile this year and I am happy that any significant pressures arising will be addressed through the additional €100m I have secured for my Vote.


Yesterday’s announcement in relation to the Capital Plan, and the 7 year funding envelope of €10bn for transport, tourism and sport, is a very clear signal of the importance this Government attaches to investment in these sectors into the future. We do not have all the funding we want to progress all the projects we would like but we are moving incrementally and steadfastly in the right direction. Thanks for your time and I am more than happy to answer any questions you may have.