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Friday 23 February 2018

Kelly accused of 'protecting trophy projects' in rail row

Alan Kelly. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Alan Kelly. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Niall O'Connor

Niall O'Connor

Former minister Alan Kelly has been accused of trying to protect "trophy projects" in his Tipperary constituency.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath lashed out at what he described as Mr Kelly's "big ego" following the row over the future of the Limerick-Ballybrophy rail line.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath. Photo: Tom Burke
Independent TD Mattie McGrath. Photo: Tom Burke

A report by the National Transport Authority (NTA) found that the line, which stops at Mr Kelly's base in Nenagh, costs over €550 per passenger. It is one of the most expensive lines being operated by the trouble-hit Irish Rail.

The chief executive of the semi-state body, David Franks, this week warned that it will be forced to shut lines due to safety fears unless an extra €128m a year is provided until 2021 to shore up its balance sheet.

Despite reducing annual costs by €75m, the State railway company faces a financial crisis that could result in as many as four lines closing.

But politically, the focus has stayed on the Limerick-Ballybrophy line.

Read more: Kevin Doyle: Kelly takes off like a runaway train - but the facts are stark

In 2012, Irish Rail added four extra services a day - at a cost of almost €20,000 daily - to the loss-making route.

At the time, Mr Kelly was Minister of State with responsibility for public transport.

But the Labour Party TD has insisted that he did not use his ministerial position to bring about the expansion.

During a heated interview on RTÉ's 'Morning Ireland' on Tuesday, Mr Kelly also attacked members of the media who reported the details of the National Transport Authority finding.

But he was yesterday accused of trying to bully journalists by Mr McGrath.

"We can't have trophy projects of former ministers with big egos, which is what happened," Mr McGrath said.

"Then he [Mr Kelly] came on [radio] and bullied certain journalists, which is totally outrageous.

"Free speech is very important and criticism is very important and I think it is outrageous how he behaved on 'Morning Ireland' yesterday morning. He still doesn't realise he is out of power, and he lost his position."

Mr McGrath said he has received assurances from Transport Minister Shane Ross that no decisions have been taken in terms of service closures.

"But we can't justify a passenger costing €550," he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Kelly last night said there needs to be certainty provided in relation to the future of our rail network.

"Our railway network is crucial for attracting investment into our rural towns," he said.

"If we want people to use our trains, we need certainty on their future, timetables that are convenient for working people, and investment to improve speeds and reliability."

Irish Independent

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