Varadkar and ministers defend government investment in roads amid ‘stark’ report

Ministers have defended spending on roads (PA)
Ministers have defended spending on roads (PA) Ministers have defended spending on roads (PA)

The Taoiseach and ministers insisted the coalition government has invested in roads following a warning issued to government about safety concerns.

Minister Roderic O’Gorman insisted his party leader Eamon Ryan has provided the necessary funding as Transport Minister, while minister of state with responsibility for road safety Jack Chambers said the report was of concern to him.

A speed limit review, which has been ongoing for two years, has been fast-tracked by the government amid concerns around the rising number of road deaths in Ireland.

Fatalities in 2023 are up significantly on recent years, with authorities warning of an increase in speeding and drink-driving.

The Irish Independent reported on Thursday that a report from Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) indicated if there was not adequate investment in road infrastructure, it could result in 77 deaths and 381 serious injuries over the next five years.

Asked about the report, Leo Varadkar said that investment has gone into roads, while Mr Chambers said the report was “stark”.

“We have a lot of investments and roads, you know, hundreds of billions of euros go into maintenance and restoration of local, regional and national roads every year. In addition to that, we sign up for new projects,” Mr Varadkar said.

“So this month, nearly half a million euros are being invested in road upgrades in the north-west, for the M5. It’s always the case that any government agency will always say they need more money, and if we don’t give them more money, there’ll be negative consequences.

“People make their case for more money, and I wouldn’t expect anything different. That’s the normal course of budgetary negotiations, but I do support funding for roads, I should be clear on that.

“But also, we need to make sure there’s adequate funding for public transport, (there’s) some really big, important public transport… like BusConnects in Dublin, like Cork Metropolitan Rail, and we have a commitment in the programme for governments to make sure that funding for public transport outweighs investments on roads by two to one.”

Asked about the report, Mr Chambers said it was important that the “wider political system reflect” on it.

“The warnings and the report from Transport Infrastructure Ireland is stark, and obviously is a particular concern for me as minister with responsibility for road safety,” Mr Chambers said.

“This government has set out a ‘vision zero’ aspiration when it comes to reducing and minimising casualties and deaths on our roads, and we plan to address that in a number of ways.

“But infrastructure is an important component when it comes to road safety. When you look at the last number of decades and how we’ve reduced the number of fatalities and collisions on our roads, it’s important that from a road safety perspective, we listen to the feedback and the expert advice we received from agencies like Transport Infrastructure Ireland.

“That’s why in the aftermath of the budget there’ll be a wider discussion on capital investments from a roads perspective and also public transport and other areas of capital investment.”

Green Party TD and Minister for Children and Equality Mr O’Gorman defended the government’s record on road safety and investment in infrastructure.

“Safety on our roads is absolutely paramount in terms of the Green Party’s approach and indeed in terms of the approach of the Department of Transport,” he said.

“Since this government has come into office, 5.1 billion euro has been spent on roads, and 1 billion euro specifically has been spent on improving our roads.”

He added that Mr Chambers is engaging with Justice Minister Helen McEntee to “set out” enforcement mechanisms.