Header Item Written Answers Nos. 934-950
 Header Item Air Safety
 Header Item Road Projects
 Header Item The Gathering Initiatives
 Header Item Coast Guard Services
 Header Item Coast Guard Services
 Header Item Regional Airports
 Header Item Road Safety Strategy
 Header Item Driver Licence Renewals
 Header Item Rail Services
 Header Item Driver Licences
 Header Item Rail Services
 Header Item Tax Code
 Header Item Driving Test Regulations
 Header Item Public Sector Pensions
 Header Item Appointments to State Boards
 Header Item National Internship Scheme Placements

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 826 No. 1

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Written Answers Nos. 934-950

Air Safety

 934. Deputy Clare Daly Information on Clare Daly Zoom on Clare Daly asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if his attention has been drawn to a fuel emergency mayday on 14 December 2013 out of Dublin on a Ryanair aeroplane which diverted to Liverpool and landed with less than final reserve fuel on board; and the steps he will take in this matter in view of the previous call by the Irish Aviation Authority on Ryanair to review its fuel policy and the very serious potential consequences for passenger safety.  [1076/14]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The subject matter of the Deputy's question is aviation safety and the Irish Aviation Authority has statutory responsibility for regulating safety standards in civil aviation.  Therefore, I am referring the Deputy's question to the Authority for direct reply.  Please advise my private office if you do not receive a response within 10 working days.

  As the Deputy knows, Ryanair flies 80m passengers every year and its safety record is on par with any airline in Europe.

Road Projects

 935. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he will consider allocating further funding for the structural review of bridges in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1104/14]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads, including bridges, in its area, is a statutory function of each road authority in accordance with the provisions of section 13 of the Roads Act, 1993.  Works on such roads or bridges are a matter for the relevant local authority to be funded from its own resources supplemented by State road grants.  The initial selection and prioritisation of works to be funded is also a matter for the Council.  

In July of 2013, my Department invited applications for Bridge Works under the Regional & Local Road Specific Grant Programme, for consideration for funding in 2014.  Each local authority, including Kerry County Council, was invited to submit a number of applications for bridge rehabilitation and repair works. I will announce the 2014 regional and local road grant allocations shortly, which will include funding for bridge works.

The Gathering Initiatives

 936. Deputy Simon Harris Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar his plans to ensure the benefits of The Gathering to the Irish tourism sector, the broader economy and to communities around the country are harnessed and that the lessons learnt during the year, links made with groups abroad and so on are not lost; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [1111/14]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The Gathering Ireland 2013 aimed primarily to generate additional tourist numbers and revenue in 2013 and the targets in this regard will be exceeded.  However, it also aimed to have a longer-term impact including enhancing community pride and strengthening links with the diaspora.  The Gathering helped to strengthen existing links with Irish communities abroad and create new connections.  Tourism Ireland will continue to work with the diaspora networks and will include this global family as part of its future promotional work overseas.  The networks and databases created through The Gathering will also remain as a valuable asset to Irish tourism.  

A number of Gathering related events and festivals have already been identified as having potential to happen again. Similarly, the success of the Emerald Isle Classic college football game, which was a key part of the marketing campaign for the Gathering, is being built on with this year's game between Penn State – with the largest alumni association in the US - and the University of Central Florida in Croke Park.  I am also examining ways to keep local authorities involved in supporting and organising events and festivals that draw tourists.  While all local authorities may not be willing or able, I am keen to involve those that are.  

The Gathering also made a real contribution to the local community. The Gathering network provided extensive training to more than 2,500 people and these community engagement skills will endure and be available to support other local events. Furthermore, as the Deputy will be aware, I launched a Tourism Policy Review last year and I expect that many of the lessons learnt from The Gathering will be included in the new tourism policy statement which I will finalise this year.

Coast Guard Services

 937. Deputy Simon Harris Information on Simon Harris Zoom on Simon Harris asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar his plans to provide a new facility for the Coast Guard at a location (details supplied); when he expects this project to be commenced and to be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [1112/14]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The capital envelope through to 2016 available for the Coast Guard building programme makes provision for work to commence on  three new station houses for Coast Guard Units – one in 2013, 2014 and 2015 respectively. Work on the new Coast Guard station for Doolin  in County Clare commenced in 2013.  Greystones and Westport are next in line.

  The Greystones Coast Guard Unit is a Search, Boat and Cliff Rescue Unit covering the area of coastline from Dublin Bay to Tuskar Rock. At present, the Unit operates from an old rocket house and has long been identified as being in need of more suitable facilities. A site was identified in the Greystones Harbour Plan.  The Office of Public Works is finalising the design of the station house and is engaged in ongoing discussions with the Local Authority in respect of certain key issues. The rate of progress on this project will depend on the timelines required for the various phases and the matter is being overseen and closely monitored by  the Coast Guard personnel in my Department.

Coast Guard Services

 938. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar his views on the ongoing concerns regarding the future of the Malin Head Coast Guard station and marine rescue centre in County Donegal; and if he will give an assurance that the necessary staff numbers will be achieved to maintain a 24-hour emergency service.  [1119/14]

 960. Deputy Charlie McConalogue Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar his plans to reduce staffing levels and remove services at Malin Head Coast Guard station; his plans to deal with the upcoming retirements at the station; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [1664/14]

 961. Deputy Charlie McConalogue Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if Malin Head coastal radio station will remain open on a 24-hour basis in view of a recent article in a publication (details supplied) which suggested it was to be reduced to a 12-hour station; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [1665/14]

 962. Deputy Charlie McConalogue Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the current staffing levels at Malin Head coastal radio station; the total number of hours and cost of overtime at the station for 2012 and 2013; the ideal number of whole-time equivalents required to provide a 24-hour service at the station without the need for overtime; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [1666/14]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I propose to take Questions Nos. 938 and 960 to 962, inclusive, together.

  There are no plans to remove or reduce services from Malin Marine Rescue Sub Centre (MRSC). As the Deputies will be well aware, following the completion of the Value for Money reports into the Coast Guard and the Marine Survey Office in 2012, I announced in July 2013, an Action Plan to address concerns raised in these reports regarding Ireland's maritime transport safety and marine emergency response regimes. In drawing up the Action Plan, one of the options considered by my Department was reducing the service available at Malin MRSC to that of daytime only. However following careful consideration of the options it was decided that Malin should be maintained on a 24 hour basis but that greater efficiencies using advanced technologies and improved working processes were required across the three rescue coordination centres (Dublin, Malin and Valentia).

  In relation to staffing levels and retirements, the review of resources needed at the Coast Guard Centres identified a requirement for 40 Radio Officers to ensure adequate cover in the three centres. However, as already indicated, in order to support this staffing complement, advanced technologies and integrated working processes are required across the three centres. Currently, an additional 2 Radio Officers are required to bring the staff complement to 40 and arrangements are in train to provide for these additional staff. My Department will seek sanction from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to fill vacancies as they arise up to the minimum staffing levels of 40 Officers.

  The current staffing in Malin is 12 Radio Officers. The total number of hours and cost of overtime at the station for 2012 and 2013 is as follows:

YearTotal number of overtime hoursTotal cost of overtime
20122,167.75€99,890.39
20133,389.85€152,926.28

Regional Airports

 939. Deputy Dara Calleary Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the proposed source of the €35 million identified by the report completed by the study group of Ireland West Airport Knock, which included representatives of his Department; and his views on the financing of the report's recommendations  [1156/14]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar As the Deputy may be aware, the current Regional Airports Programme, which includes Ireland West Airport Knock (IWAK), ends in December this year. I have welcomed the recent Study Group Report. Given the current financial position of the regional airports and the contribution that they make to their regional and local economy, it is accepted that they should be given the opportunity beyond 2014 to grow to a viable, self-sustaining position. With that in mind and having considered the Study Group's Report, a decision has now been made to extend Exchequer support for regional airports beyond 2014. My Department will now develop a framework for approval by the EU Commission in respect of State support for regional airports, for implementation at the end of the current programme of support (i.e. from 2015).  

Exchequer supports to the airport over the last decade have amounted to €13,819,676 in respect of CAPEX and €3,682,075 in respect of OPEX. While no decisions have been made in respect of the exact levels of future exchequer supports for IWAK or any other regional airports at this time, it is envisaged that future funding will be provided from a mix of local authority, local business and exchequer sources.  

The policy on regional airports post-2014 is currently being developed in my Department and will reflect the outcomes of the IWAK Study Group report and will also have to comply with the revised EU Guidelines on State Aid once they are finalised.  Regarding exchequer support, it is intended that a framework will be developed by my Department for approval by the EU Commission for implementation at the end of the current programme, for the four year period 2015-2018. That framework should provide a level of certainty around support over a multiannual period, where regional airports can provide a business plan leading to stand-alone commercial viability within a ten year period.

Road Safety Strategy

 940. Deputy Timmy Dooley Information on Timmy Dooley Zoom on Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar when the special task force established in 2013 to examine the cause of road deaths will report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1165/14]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The current Road Safety Strategy 2013-2020, which I launched in March 2013, aims to make Ireland one of the safest countries in terms of road deaths in the EU. The new Strategy sets a specific target for 2020 to reduce the number of road deaths to 124 a year (from 162 in 2012) and serious injuries to 330 per year (from 485 in 2012). This drop is necessary to close the gap between Ireland and other best performing countries.  

While no special task force to examine the cause of road deaths was established, I will continue to Chair the Ministerial Group on Road Safety to oversee the implementation of the 144 actions in the Road Safety Strategy 2013-2020. The Group is similar to the one that monitored the implementation of the previous road safety strategy.  Since its establishment in March 2013, the Group has met twice and will continue to meet on a regular basis.  The function of the Ministerial Group is not to produce a report but rather to oversee the implementation of the Strategy.  Overall the Actions set out in the Road Safety Strategy are being completed within the target dates set out in the Strategy document.

Driver Licence Renewals

 941. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan Information on Maureen O'Sullivan Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if progress is being made to address the delays experienced by drivers applying for a renewal of a driving licence to the national driver licence service; if drivers are covered if they are stopped by gardaí in the meantime, taking into account the long delays that were not envisaged by the NDLS; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [1172/14]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The National Driver Licensing Service (NDLS) is the statutory responsibility of the Road Safety Authority (RSA).  I met with the acting CEO of the RSA last month to discuss the difficulties people have experienced, and how the RSA proposed to address them. The RSA acknowledged that there were teething problems when the service opened for business on 29 October 2013.  Some were technical and systems issues, while others related to new staff becoming familiar with rules and processes around driving licences and permits.

The RSA has responded by increasing resources in NDLS centres experiencing delays, as well as in the licence processing centre, and providing further training to staff.  There are no major technical difficulties now affecting the service.  A booking system to allow for customers to make appointments is operating in a Pilot Phase and will be rolled out across the NDLS offices after 24 January.

While I understand that there are still some backlogs in relation to applications, the situation has improved.  I have been informed that licence applications that are fully and correctly completed are being issued within 8 days. The RSA has assured me that the remaining backlog will be cleared by mid-February.  The NDLS can also respond to urgent situations where a licence is needed for travel abroad or for work purposes.

I understand that the NDLS has advised the Garda of the delays with issuing some licences.

Rail Services

 942. Deputy Terence Flanagan Information on Terence Flanagan Zoom on Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if discussions have taken place between the National Transport Authority and Irish Rail regarding offering commuters cheaper fares for travelling on the DART during off-peak times; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1224/14]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The issue raised is a matter for the National Transport Authority (NTA), in conjunction with Iarnród Éireann, and I have forwarded the Deputy's question to the NTA for direct reply.  Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within ten working days.

Driver Licences

 943. Deputy Terence Flanagan Information on Terence Flanagan Zoom on Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if the Road Safety Authority has considered replacing ten-year driving licences with those that run up to the applicant's 70th birthday, as is the case for driving licences issued by national authorities in other EU member states; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [1226/14]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar Ireland operates within the framework of EU driver licensing law as set out in Directive 2006/126/EC, as amended. The Directive states that driving licences for a number of categories of vehicle, including cars (Category B) should normally be for 10 years, although Member States may make this fifteen years.  Member States may reduce the period of validity of licences for people over a certain age.  The choice of cut-off age is a matter of national policy. It has always been seventy years of age in Ireland since testing for drivers began.  The EU allows Member States to make this age as young as fifty. Previously member states could issue licences for longer periods, so, for example, in the United Kingdom licences were issued which were valid until the individual reached seventy years of age. However that is no longer the case.  

In Ireland, a 10-year licence is therefore the norm for car drivers up to the age of sixty.  From age sixty to sixty-six, a driver may receive a licence valid until they turn seventy, while from age sixty-seven to sixty- nine Ireland issues licences valid for 3 years. I am satisfied that the periods of validity availed of in Ireland, which are in line with EU law and the preferred period of 10 years recommended there, are appropriate, and I have no plans to change them.

Rail Services

 944. Deputy Terence Flanagan Information on Terence Flanagan Zoom on Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if Irish Rail intends to display the number of carriages of incoming trains on electronic sign information boards on platforms at DART stations, in view of its current carriage policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [1227/14]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The issue raised is a matter for Iarnród Éireann and I have forwarded the Deputy's question to the company for direct reply.  Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within ten working days.

Tax Code

 945. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar his views on correspondence (details supplied) regarding a tax on the truck business; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [1281/14]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The development of a road charging scheme for HGVs is one of my priorities for 2014.  Following consultation with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government towards the end of 2013, it was agreed that we would establish a working group to look at the feasibility of introducing a road charging regime for HGVs in Ireland in the medium term. Obviously, the introduction of any such regime raises a number of issues and will require input from a wide variety of government departments and agencies.  The group will need to take account of issues in relation to the Exchequer impact of a road charging regime, how it would work, the impact this will have on imports and exports, the technology involved in such a system, compliance with European legislation and how it would be enforced amongst other matters. Distance-based charging will be one of the regimes considered.

My Department will chair this group and preliminary discussions have already taken place between the parties involved.  The terms of reference are currently being completed and the group will begin its substantive work this month.  The group will report on the feasibility of a road charging regime by the middle of 2014 following which a decision can be made on whether to implement such a system in Ireland.  If a decision is taken to implement such a regime, I will ensure that industry groups such as the Irish Road Haulage Association, the Irish Exporters Association, etc. are involved.

Driving Test Regulations

 946. Deputy Jim Daly Information on Jim Daly Zoom on Jim Daly asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he will confirm if additional charges will be applied to customers of the national driving licence service who presented for testing but were unable to be tested as the NDLS had not issued a learner permit to the same person it had called for testing; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [1326/14]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The subject matter of this question, which is the operation of the National Driver Licensing Service, is the statutory responsibility of the Road Safety Authority.  I have therefore referred the question to the Authority for direct reply.  I would ask the Deputy to contact my office if a response has not been received within ten days.

  Question No. 947 withdrawn.

Public Sector Pensions

 948. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he will provide in tabular form, year on year, the occasions on which he has signed off on the awarding of added years to the service of public sector workers between March 2011 and December 2013; the grade of the persons awarded the added years; and the number of added years awarded in each instance.  [1367/14]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The awarding of added years, either in the context of ill health, retirement or professional added years, is not one in which I, as Minister, have a role.  Rather is an administrative matter governed by circulars issued by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Therefore I have not signed off any such awards.

  The information requested by the deputy is set out in Table 1.  There were 9 awards of added years at  retirement in the three year period.  Seven awards were due to the retirement of staff early on ill health grounds and the remaining 2 awards were for professional added years.   

Table 1 - Award of Added Years at Retirement

GradeRetirement DateRetirement DateRetirement Date
-201120122013
Executive Officer6 years 243 days--
Principal Officer3 years--
Clerical Officer6 years 243 days--
Clerical Officer6 years 298 days--
Clerical Officer-5 years 253 days-
Assistant Principal Officer-3 years 201 days-
Clerical Officer-6 years 243 days-
Radio Officer Grade III--5 years 325 days
Higher Executive Officer--6 years 243 days


  I have asked the State Agencies under the aegis of my Department to provide the Deputy with the information requested.  If you do not receive a reply from the agencies within 10 working days please advise my private office.

Appointments to State Boards

 949. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he will provide in tabular form, year on year, the number of commercial and non-commercial State agency board positions under the aegis of his Department that have been filled from March 2011 to December 2013; the number of these positions that were publically advertised; and the number of female appointments.  [1383/14]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar All positions were publically advertised in line with government policy.  This was not the practice of the previous government.  While poorly-informed commentary and analysis implies otherwise, the government never suggested that all appointees should have to respond to the public advert.  While over half of my appointees have come through this process, I have also re-appointed people such as Gay Byrne (Chairman of the Road Safety Authority) and there is no requirement for them to reply to the advertisement just for the sake of it.

  I have, on occasion, approached people to sit on a board because of their particular skills or experience.  Kathryn O'Leary Higgins is an example of such a person who was approached to sit on the board of the Shannon Group. Ms O'Leary Higgins was a former member of the United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) from 2006 to 2009. She also served as Deputy Secretary of the Department of Labor from 1997 to 1999 and in the White House as Assistant to the President and Secretary to the Cabinet from 1995 to 1997.   

  I announced new procedures for appointment to boards on Friday 8th April 2011 and all appointments from that date have followed these procedures. They include an open invitation for expressions of interest in serving on the board of any of the agencies under the remit of my Department.  This invitation was renewed on 31st January 2013.   

  Details of all appointments and vacancies are published on http://dttas.ie/corporate/english/state-board-membership-and-approved-fees and I currently have a database of more than 500 individuals who have expressed interest. However, given the importance of ensuring the right mix of skills and experience on every board, appointments are not necessarily confined to those who have made such an expression as I explained earlier.   

  I have made a total of 183 appointments in total including re-appointments since my appointment as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, and all of these appointments were made after the introduction of an open invitation for expressions of interests.  46 of these appointments are women. In every case where expressions of interest are concerned, I give close consideration to individuals who I consider appropriate to promoting good governance at board level, and with experience or qualifications in finance (including audit capability and/or project assessment), law, corporate governance, marketing, IT, or with experience relevant to the transport, tourism and sports sectors.

National Internship Scheme Placements

 950. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he will provide in tabular form, year on year, the number of JobBridge interns taken on in his Department in 2013.  [1399/14]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar): Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar While my Department did not take on any new JobBridge interns in 2013, three JobBridge internships finished in 2013, having commenced in 2012.


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