Sunday 18 March 2018

Taoiseach says no rail lines will close despite need for massive investment

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Frank McGrath
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Frank McGrath
Lighter side of politics: Varadkar gives it socks during a visit by Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, who is known for his quirky choices underfoot. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Kevin Doyle, Group Political Editor

No railways lines will close despite the need for massive investment, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has insisted.

The Taoiseach said no lines were closed during the recessionary years so the Government has no intention of allowing that happen now.

He was responding to reports in today’s Irish Independent that rural lines are under threat unless Irish Rail received a €460m cash injection.

The Government has been told that intercity services to Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Kerry, Waterford and Wexford face being axed during a lack of funding.

The issue was repeatedly raised in the Dáil today with Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin saying the Government was “caught short” in relation to railway investment.

Mr Varadkar said that during the past decade of economic troubles “much of which involved a very difficult period cutbacks we didn’t close down any railways”.

He said that the Government “is certainly not going to start doing it now”.

On the wider issue of challenges facing rural Ireland, Mr Martin said the Taoiseach had failure time and again.

He said there needs to be a “reality check in terms of delivery to rural Ireland”.

“The previous Fine Gael-led Government undermined and arguably destroyed a very good model for rural development in the form of the Leader programme, which was lauded by the European Union as an example of good governance and developmental community-led approach and was designed to revitalise rural areas, create jobs and so on,” he said.

Mr Martin also noted that Fine Gael promised to deliver broadband to 90pc of homes by 2015. The tendering process is still ongoing and has been hit by crisis after one of the two remaining bidders withdrew last week.

Mr Varadkar said one of the first things he did as Taoiseach was create a Cabinet level positon for a Minister for Rural Affairs.

He said money has been given to a variety of projects and while there is an underspend in LEADER, it will gather pace.

The Taoiseach argued that 80pc of new jobs in recent years have been outside the greater Dublin area.

“I don’t think there is any more you can do for rural Ireland than ensure there are jobs in rural Ireland. That sustains rural Ireland,” he said.

Earlier, Mr Varadkar was told that if he is “to be more than stylish socks” then he must quickly move to allow for a directly elected mayor of Dublin.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan put it to the Taoaiseach that intervention is needed in the capital or it will be consumed by gridlock.

It was previously suggested that the Government could schedule a plebiscite on the issue of a powerful mayoral office next autumn – but Mr Varadkar indicated this will not happen.

“I am and remain in favour of a directly elected mayor for Dublin,” he said.

However, Mr Varadkar added that there is a lot of work required in order to define the role of such a mayor.

He said the local authorities in the capital see themselves as the “four Dublins” and each has its own housing authority and planning authority.

The Taoiseach questioned whether the property tax and VAT collected in Dublin would go to the Mayor’s office.

“Those things need to be fleshed out before you put a proposal to the people,” he said.

Mr Ryan told the Dáil that Mr Varadkar is acting as though he has “a cunning plan to cripple Dublin with gridlock to help the rest of the country”.

The Dublin Bay South TD argued “real leadership” is needed to tackle the housing crisis but the four CEOs of the local authorities are answerable to nobody “except to the mandarins in the Custom House and Merrion Street”.

“If you are to be more than stylish socks you need to do this [create a mayoral office] quickly,” Mr Ryan said.

He added: “If Dublin crashes because of gridlock and a lack of housing leadership you’ll be responsible.”

In response Mr Varadkar said the Green Party had made moves to set up a mayoral office while in power between 2007 and 2011 but hadn’t gotten it over the line.

“It wasn’t properly figured out by Minister [John] Gormley when he put his proposals forward,” the Taoiseach said.

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