Here is an edited version of my speech to the Seanad on 23 March
You can read the full debate, including Martin Cullen’s response, here
The lack of logic regarding the toll bridge plaza is staggering. If one goes out there at peak hours from Monday to Friday and stands on the southern side, when the majority of the traffic is going north, one can see miles of vehicles on one side of the gates and empty space on the other. A simple solution would be to open those gates to the traffic. National Toll Roads, NTR, and the Government have decided that this is not the optimum solution.
When a deal was struck between NTR and the authorities in 1987, the projections for traffic estimated that in the region of 11,000 cars per day would use the motorway. Those 11,000 cars represent only one third of the vehicles that actually use the M50. Approximately 95,000 vehicles pass through the West Link toll bridge plaza each day. Such levels of traffic were not even dreamt of at the time the deal was struck. Some people would say that NTR deserves its good luck because it took a risk and is reaping the benefits. That is a fair point.
However, what is happening at present is not in the public interest. It is damaging to the public good, to the people involved and to the economy. All that time wasted by vibrant, energetic and often young people is indefensible in economic terms. However, this particular wrong continues to obtain.
The campaign to open the toll gates was provoked by an extraordinary 20% price rise, imposed on 3 January 2005, from €1.50 to €1.80. That was an opportunist price increase and an extraordinary piece of profiteering. NTR is well aware that current traffic levels were not even conceived of at the time of the agreement. It knows that the agreement is water tight and it is also aware that the problem of the M50 and the toll bridge will worsen in the coming years.
The worse the problem gets, the better it is for NTR. The situation is going to get a great deal worse because the number of vehicles passing through the toll plaza will increase and NTR will make even more money.
When this campaign began, we arranged to send a large number of e-mails to NTR, the Government and the Department of Transport. Over 5,000 were sent before the campaign was halted. I apologise to the Minister for blocking his inbox for so long but these things must be done. I am aware that the message got through. Irate drivers from Meath and Kildare, in particular, informed the Minister that the position was unacceptable. NTR received the same number of e-mails and proceeded to reply to them meticulously and on an individual basis.
Every Member of the House was lobbied prior to this debate and received a significant amount of literature that contains misinformation. This is the way lobbying works in the House. Lobbyists have enormous clout and power. It appears that in recent months these people have had free access to Members of the House. The average motorist does not enjoy this privilege. If NTR’s lobbyists are effective, they will copperfasten the deal with the Government and motorists will continue to suffer. That is neither fair nor right.