The Government is more concerned with Fine Gael electoral prospects than with creating a high quality public transport system, Labour leader Brendan Howlin claimed in the Dáil amid ongoing concerns over the MetroLink and BusConnects projects in Dublin.
But Taoiseach Leo Varadkar retorted that Ireland is not the Soviet Union or a dictatorship and does not “run roughshod” over the concerns of communities about transport projects.
Mr Howlin raised the issue in the Dáil on Tuesday when he expressed concern that the Government seemed to be abandoning the plan for the southside section of the MetroLink rail line in Dublin due to Government unwillingness to endure a lengthy disruption to the Luas Green line.
And Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said that the Taoiseach had to agree that “whatever solution we pick we will not abandon the southside”. He was worried because the Taoiseach was talking about a metro to the city centre. If press reports accurately reflected the Government’s thinking then “it has abandoned the southside”, he said.
It was reported last week that in a major change to plans published last year, the MetroLink line, that will for the first time connect Dublin Airport to the city centre by rail, will still run from Swords to the city, but is likely to stop north of Ranelagh at Charlemont. The change, which will be announced next month when the National Transport Authority (NTA) is due to publish a revised route for the line, means that the Metro will not continue on to Sandyford.
Mr Howlin said that 120 years after Glasgow got its first subway Ireland is “still talking about building Dublin’s first metro line”.
The Wexford TD noted too the ongoing public consultation process about the BusConnects plan to rethink the entire bus system for the greater Dublin area but he said Minister for Transport Shane Ross appeared to have handed power to unelected officials and was not concerned in that case about the anxiety of communities.
Mr Howlin said he had been told Fine Gael TD Colm Brophy told a public meeting that he lacked confidence in BusConnects and that Minister of State Catherine Byrne at the same meeting had called the National Transport Authority “dictators” over proposals to change routes through Terenure.
The Labour leader said “there seems to be more focus on the electoral prospects of Fine Gael TDs than in providing the vision of a high quality public transport system”.
And he called on the Taoiseach to guarantee the plan for Dublin’s public transport had been future-proofed for an expanding city.
Mr Varadkar said his Dublin West constituency was a commuter constituency and he was very well aware of the impact of congestion.
The Government aims to cut commuting times and the National Transport Authority had detailed plans up to 2030 for the greater Dublin area while the Government had the Project Ireland 2040 initiative.
They had to “get on with those plans and implement them” and he hit out at opposition calls for the Project Ireland plan to be suspended and reviewed.
They were very committed to the plan to overhaul bus services, “notwithstanding the disruption it will cause to some”, he said.
Mr Varadkar said there is consultation with the public on BusConnects and MetroLink and the genuine concerns of communities should not be dismissed.
“We’re not a dictatorship, this isn’t the Soviet Union and it’s not the 19th Century in Glasgow,” he said.
“We don’t just run roughshod over people in communities. So the right thing to do is to listen to people’s concerns, take into account what communities have to say, amend the plans as appropriate and then go ahead and get them done.”
Both Mr Howlin and Mr Ryan called for a debate on the plans. The Green party leader said that “something we could agree to do is to stop scoring petty political points on serious matters of national public policy”.
Mr Varadkar said he was “agnostic” about a debate and was not sure it would be “particularly productive”. He suggested that the transport committee would be the best place to debate the issues and to call in experts and agencies to help a “more meaningful” engagement.