Breen calls on Transport Minister to allocate additional funding to repair the roads of County Clare.

January 21st, 2010 - Pat Breen

Road Network – Adjournment Debate
Tuesday, 19th January 2010.
Deputy Pat Breen T.D.

Deputy Pat Breen: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me an opportunity to raise this important issue tonight. I am extremely disappointed that neither the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government nor the Minister for Transport is present to respond to this Adjournment matter, which has been raised by five Deputies. I am angry because the Ministers have not taken the time to come to the House to speak about an issue that is affecting every county. Given that they were not here during the freeze itself, perhaps I should not expect them to be here tonight.
This has been one of the harshest winters of the past 50 years. We have had frost and snow in County Clare since 22 December last. I suppose it was not until the bad weather hit the city of Dublin that the Government decided to take some action. We did not have the leadership needed to deal with the crisis, unfortunately. We had no Taoiseach and no Tánaiste. The only response was from the Minister, Deputy O’Dea. When he was asked why the Army was not being called in, he said it had not been asked to come in. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, blamed everybody other than the Government for the crisis.
In the absence of leadership from the Government, local communities and local authorities stepped up to the plate to assist elderly people and grit neighbourhood roads. I commend and compliment Clare County Council, which did a great job in keeping the main arteries open, despite its limited resources. The problems caused by the big freeze were compounded when the thaw set in and the state of the roads became apparent. Motorists have to contend with huge potholes as they go about their daily business. Having driven on the roads of County Clare over recent days, I am familiar with the problems on the R465 between Limerick and Broadford, for example. Roads like the N68 are badly afflicted with potholes.
I remind the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews that the county councils do not have the money to deal with this situation. Road maintenance grants have been slashed by 10%. Like the other Deputies who are about to contribute to this debate, I want funding to be provided in my local area so that the roads which are in an atrocious condition can be repaired. This is a road safety matter, in so far as lives will be saved if action is taken.

Deputy Barry Andrews: I thank the Deputies for raising this important matter. The Minister for Transport would like to express his sympathy to all who have been badly affected by the recent severe weather. Indeed, some parts of the country have been hit more than once by the impact of the earlier flooding and the recent severe cold weather. He also expresses his appreciation of the work done by the local authorities and the NRA and commends local authority frontline staff in particular on the exceptional work they did to deal with the impact of the recent extended period of severe weather.

As well as the impact on the daily lives of citizens, there has been a serious impact on parts of the road network, as has become evident in recent days. Damage to road surfaces is an inevitable consequence of the type of weather we have had in recent times. Ireland has a uniquely extensive road network, with more than 96,000 km of road, or 2.5 times the EU average. The maintenance and improvement of this network places a substantial financial burden on local authorities and the Exchequer.
Considerable resources have been spent in recent years on both the national and regional and local road networks. The first priority therefore has to be to safeguard this investment in so far as this is possible, taking account of the recent weather impacts and the current difficulties with the public finances. The response to recent events will have to carefully target the available resources to address the most urgently required repairs, taking account of key factors such as safety, the strategic importance of the individual road and traffic levels.
The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is the statutory responsibility of each local authority, in accordance with the provisions of section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. Works on those roads are funded from local authorities’ own resources and supplemented by State road grants which are paid by the Department of Transport. The initial selection and prioritisation of works to be funded is also a matter for each local authority. When road grants for regional and local roads are allocated each year, the Department of Transport does not hold back a reserve allocation at central level to deal with weather contingencies because such an arrangement would mean a reduction across all local authorities in the road grant allocations to them at the beginning of each year. Rather, the allocation made to local authorities is inclusive of the weather risk factor. Local authorities are expressly advised that they should set aside contingency sums from their overall regional and local roads resources to finance necessary weather related works. Applications for additional funding to carry out remedial works to roads and bridges following bad weather and flooding can only be considered in exceptional circumstances.
Earlier this year the Department of Transport asked those local authorities particularly affected by flooding to provide an assessment of the additional road costs incurred. Last week, the Department requested all local authorities to provide information on the likely additional costs of the recent severe weather over and above their normal winter maintenance expenditure and to identify the principal components of the additional costs. While the Department has received some information on the impact of the November flooding, the collection of information on the recent cold weather is still ongoing. It will take some time to establish costs as the damage is still becoming evident and is being quantified on a daily basis. However, the Minister has asked all local authorities to provide information as soon as possible to enable him to assess the full impact of the severe weather when deciding on the 2010 regional and local road grant allocations. In allocating those grants the Minister will prioritise expenditure to deal with damage caused by the recent exceptional weather.
It is particularly important that local authorities carefully reassess their planned road programmes for 2010 in light of the impact of the recent bad weather on their road networks. The Minister asks them to prioritise necessary repairs to damage caused to roads by weather. The first priority has to be the protection of the existing road network and particularly the massive Exchequer investment of €5.6 billion since 1997.
The National Roads Authority generally fully reimburses local authorities for their expenditure on winter maintenance on national primary and national secondary roads. The Minister is aware this expenditure has also increased substantially due to the bad weather. The NRA will also be reviewing its expenditure priorities for 2010 in the light of the damage caused to national roads.