Transport

Donohoe’s first moves

12/07/2013. The new Minister for European Affairs, Paschal Donohoe at a press briefing outside the dail. Paschal Donohoe replaces Lucinda Creighton, who resigned last night after voting against the government on the abortion legislation. Photo: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland eolas summarises new Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe’s priorities and the Government’s overall progress on its transport commitments.

In his first week in office, Minister Donohoe pressed for further savings in Irish Rail and encouraged all employees to “reflect very carefully on the implications if Irish Rail is unable to secure its viability.” The pay-related proposals are opposed by the National Bus and Railworkers’ Union but were only rejected by a small margin by SIPTU members.

On 21 July, Ireland ratified the Maritime Labour Convention, which is binding on both Irish-flagged ships and international ships calling at Irish ports, although the inspection and certification system is still being prepared.

Penalty points were increased from 1 August, from two to three for speeding, holding a mobile phone while driving and not wearing a seatbelt or using child restraints. These will increase from four to five for persons who fail to pay the fixed charge and are subsequently convicted.

“As these offences are major contributory factors to road traffic collisions, increases in these areas are being introduced first,” the Minister explained. “Further increases in penalty points for other road traffic offences will be introduced before the end of the year.”

A new category of novice driver also came into effect, lasting for two years. As well as displaying an N-plate, novice drivers will be subject to lower alcohol limits and barred from acting as accompanying drivers for learners.

Ministerial tone

Donohoe is seen as ambitious. He pays attention to detail – essential for handling his previous European brief – and is well-read in policy and economics. His last job took him to 16 different countries in the space of a year. Married with two children, he was a commercial director with Procter & Gamble before entering politics.

Speaking at the Parnell Summer School, Donohoe called for a new sense of patriotism for the 21st century. Globalisation will only increase interdependence and connectivity and the State had a role in helping Irish people “to prosper and be secure” in that context. The State could, in particular, offer four foundations when its citizens felt insecure in a changing world:

1. paying its own way with taxes covering all the costs of public services;

2. varying the sources of national economic growth;

3. a relentless focus on equipping people with skills and the ability to cope with change; and

4. responding to “concentrations of interest” through more openness e.g. whistle-blowing and freedom of information legislation.

“Patriotism has the potential to lessen that uncertainty,” he concluded. “It can offer people the security they need and the support they deserve to better themselves. In return for the people paying their dues, obeying the law and serving their country as is appropriate, the institutions of state do their bit, pay their way and, most importantly, serve their people.”

Programme for Government update

The Programme for Government recognised “the need to rebalance transport policy to favour public transport” and pledged an expansion in the range and frequency of high capacity commuter services (subject to cost-benefit analysis).

Other key commitments included a review and reform of taxi regulation, legislation to regulate the vehicle clamping industry, extending the Dublin Bikes Scheme and Rural Transport Programme, and reduced airport charges.

The National Transport Authority (NTA) had taken on responsibility for taxi regulation from January 2011. A full policy review was completed by the end of the year and was followed up by the Taxi Regulation Act 2013 – which included mandatory disqualification for drivers convicted of certain offences.

A Vehicle Clamping Bill, introduced in June, aims to regulate clamping on private property along with a two-step appeals process, a default maximum release fee of €100, a code of practice for operators, and a requirement to always display signs where clamping is in operation.

The Dublin Bikes Scheme has almost tripled in size and the Coke Zero Bikes now serve a similar purpose in Cork, Limerick and Galway. The Rural Transport Programme was transferred to the NTA in 2012 and the 35 companies are being replaced by 18 transport co-ordination units, accountable to local authorities.

Airport charges at Dublin Airport were capped at €8.20 per passenger in 2011 and this fell to €7.56 this year. A provisional cap of €10.68 has been proposed for 2015, when a new five-year cycle starts, and a final determination will be issued by the Commission for Aviation Regulation in September.

Forthcoming strategies

A consultation on the draft national aviation policy (see pages 42-43) closed on 31 July. A draft maritime safety strategy closed for consultation on 29 August, with a focus on “creating a culture of safety”. Statistics on casualty trends were set out with respondents being asked to submit their views on how Ireland’s safety record can be improved.

Also during August, a strategic framework for investment in land transport for 2015-2019 was published for consultation. The document also considers investment requirements up to 2040. The deadline for submissions is 16 October.

The steering group considered the evidence base on the link between economic growth and transport investment, current transport investment levels and the impact of future demand. The ‘steady state’ requirement means that the Government should ensure the necessary funding to maintain, manage and renew existing infrastructure.

Minister Donohoe explained that “present levels of investment are not consistent either with our own historic norms, or with the investment levels of our peers.” The most striking message was “the scale of the gap between available funding levels and the level of investment that is necessary to maintain the existing transport network in [an] adequate condition.”

Transport budgets (€ million)

Sector Current Capital Total
Aviation 24.9 3.1 28.0
Land 423.3 846.6 1,270.0
Maritime 85.1 7.6 92.7
Total 533.3 858.3 1,391.7
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