Paschal Donohoe driven by planes, trains and Star Wars

Interview: ‘I absolutely love this job,’ says Minister for Transport

Paschal Donohoe stands in the Minister’s office in the Department of Transport and points to his collection of space figures, arranged on the window.

"They are not all Star Wars, some are Dr Who," he says. "I am very ecumenical about it."

“There is one for every year in politics,” he adds, counting them and almost absent-mindedly reminding himself: “I’m due one more.” It is an interesting moment, coming as it does after an hour spent breezily listing a plethora of forthcoming reports and reviews, from Irish Aviation to Iarnród Éireann, all of which appear to make forming strong opinions unnecessary for the Minister.

Something in his broad smile gives the impression that he knows this, and one feels it may be difficult for opponents to land a political punch on him.


Major projects subject to review or report include a decision on which big ticket project – such as Dart Underground, Metro North or even Metro West – should be progressed.

Agnostic outlook

The National Transport Authority will report by early next year and he is agnostic on which project will win. “My commitment is to agreeing on what the project is and then working within government to get the funding to do it,” he says, “but I will be looking to the National Transport Authority to do the technical evaluation.”

That is different to the Strategic Framework for Investment in Land Transport project, he adds. Its overarching aim is to at least double the rate of investment in land transport from 0.5 per cent of gross domestic product to 1.13 per cent.

The rate of funding “isn’t enough to maintain the road network that we have or the public transport needs that we have at the moment, let alone what we will need in the future”. However, he acknowledges the project is subject to the Government agreeing to providing the money.

Money is obviously key and nowhere is the shortage more acutely felt than Iarnród Éireann, which is in discussions with the National Transport Authority on how much of its services can be sustained on current funding.

Donohoe’s own department told the Government that Iarnród Éireann represented “the most significant challenge”, having incurred “unsustainable” losses of €148 million in the past six years.

This month, however, the budget maintained public service obligation payments destined for Iarnród Éireann at the same level as last year. Afterwards, Donohoe surprised commentators by expressing pleasure at the allocation and remarking that he was confident it would be enough.

The key, he says, is capital funding for Iarnród Éireann. He “will be engaging with the National Transport Authority and Irish Rail” over coming weeks.

“I am confident we will be able to maintain the same level of service next year that Irish Rail has this year.”

Sea ports

Donohoe speaks of the need for “bigger, deeper sea ports” but cannot get into discussion of expansion plans at the State’s biggest port, Dublin, because it has an application before An Bord Pleanála. He is similarly restricted in relation to Cork.

He would like to see an increase in tourism receipts from levels of more than €3 billion, to more than €5 billion, building on “the intersection of person, place and leadership”.

A new tourism policy will be launched later this year, he adds.

He also points to work towards “putting in place a funding plan” for Irish Lights which manages some 4,000 navigation beacons around the coast.

As we conclude, he says: “I absolutely love this job. I love it. It feeds into so many areas of interest that I would have had.”

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist