News From The Oireachtas

By Tim Ryan, Oireachtas Correspondent

By Tim Ryan, Oireachtas Correspondent

Rural Transport Programme a priority – Kelly

The Government has maintained funding for the Rural Transport Programme (RTP) in 2012 at 92% of the 2011 allocation, Minister of State for Transport Alan Kelly told the Dáil. Essentially, €9.77 million would be made available for the RTP this year and it should facilitate the maintenance of transport services in rural areas in 2012.

Replying to Fine Gael’s James Bannon, he said he could not overemphasise the importance of achieving greater efficiencies in the administration costs associated with implementing the RTP to maximise the programme funding on the provision of transport services. The achievement of greater efficiencies was vital in the face of the challenging fiscal climate facing the country.

“There is a wider context to consider when assessing rural transport,” he said. “For instance, many people in rural areas cannot access public transport services when school transport or other State-funded transport services may be operational in their areas. This highlights a need to change the way we think about rural transport and to explore new ideas. In essence we need to think about rural transport in a broader integrated transport context and in doing so to ensure that we continue to meet the transport needs of rural areas. It is also important to ensure that the community continues to remain at the heart of rural transport in Ireland.”

He added that was also intended to publish a pilot study on local integrated transport services. Both reports were being considered in the context of plans for the future of the RTP and the better integration of Exchequer-funded transport services.

“The future in this area is not without challenges, some of which will be significant,” he said. “However, we are committed to exploring the practical potential to maintain and extend the rural transport programme with other local transport services and to seeking support in exploring the possibilities of integration and changing the way we think about rural transport services. This is the top priority for me in the Department this year.”

McGrath issues challenge to trade union leaders

South Tipperary outspoken Independent Dáil Deputy Mattie McGrath challenged Jack O’Connor and other union leaders to come to the table and be honest about the position of ordinary workers and lower paid people.

Speaking on a new Industrial Relations Bill, he told the Dáil he was meeting self-employed people daily, as well as workers and - worst of all - people with no jobs.

“I compliment the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, on indicating recently that she will consider giving something to self-employed people under the PRSI scheme when they cease business,” he said. “When their jobs are gone, their families face a human tragedy because they cannot get a shilling. Is that fair? Who is speaking for them? Where is the Construction Industry Federation or the Small Business Association? They are not there. They are able to negotiate all these rates and other issues they want to apply, but they got carried away completely. We had a government, of which I was a member, which was too willing to give them everything, no matter what. They wanted to buy industrial peace at whatever cost. That is why the Croke Park agreement cannot and will not deliver. It is not delivering, it will not deliver and cannot do so.”

Deputy McGrath said he could not understand see why the Troika is not looking at that because it was nonsense.

“Anyone undertaking a peripheral examination would know that there is a lot wrong in this system and it is not all about employers,” he said. “When NAMA was set up, I said it was like a wild animal in the woods and no one knew where it would end up. By hell, do we know now where it is ending up? We might have banned stag hunting, but we will have to bring in some sort of hunting for these NAMA officials and the racket that is going on in there. No one knows where it will end up, yet millions of euro due to small and medium-sized businesses are now tied up in NAMA for one reason or another. It is no good to this State or employers and it is worse for employees. What is happening down there is a scandal, yet their money is tied up.”

Hayes seeks assurances on legislation to curb sale of cheap alcohol

The huge problem of under-age drinking, in particular the huge increase in volume of alcohol sold in supermarkets, which is having a detrimental effect on many young people was raised in the Dail by South Tipperary Fine Gael Deputy Tom Hayes.

Speaking on the Order of Business in the House, he asked the Taoiseach if any legislation was promised to deal with this problem.

In reply the Taoiseach said legislation is definitely forthcoming on the matter.

“The Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, who is dealing with this issue, recently made a fine presentation on the matter,” he said. “The legislation will be brought before the Dáil and relevant Oireachtas committee for full discussion. Everyone is involved in this. There are a range of options and issues that need to be addressed. Everyone’s opinion will be sought and will be important given the seriousness of this issue not alone for particular sectors of society but for the country. The Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, will present her case to the Oireachtas for discussion, following which it will be discussed outside.”