MINISTER FOR Transport Noel Dempsey yesterday urged commuters to try cycling – and revealed the Government is seeking alternative sources of finance to save up to 10,000 jobs in State road-building projects.
Speaking as he launched National Bike week in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, Mr Dempsey responded to assertions by the Civil Engineering Contractors Association that up to 10,000 road builders face unemployment over the next 12 months, as a result of cuts in national building projects.
The Minister, who joined a crowd of 1,500 people in a family-centred cycle around the park, said he would “be hopeful that the initiative of the Minister for Finance, where he was talking about alternative methods of finance, that we will be able to bring that quickly to Cabinet”.
Already private sector financing has been found for two former public spending projects: the Newlands Cross interchange in Dublin, and improvements to the N11 in Wicklow.
But while he said the Government was keen to secure such alternative sources of funding, he warned “you can’t just keep building roads for the sake of it. From the point of view of the infrastructure programme, if alternative methods of funding can be found, if they are reasonable for the taxpayer, then obviously we will use those and try and maintain as much employment as we possibly can and that would be our aim,” he said.
Mr Dempsey said it was difficult to be definitive on the chances of the Government’s major capital programmes actually going to construction on target, given the fall in the public finances. They were, he said, predicated on a 4 per cent growth rate when the rate this year was more likely to be closer to minus 8 per cent.
He added: “People keep asking me is this going to go ahead, is that going to go ahead – at this stage until we know whether we are going to get alternative sources of finance, I can’t give you any other answer.”
But on the subject of bicycles, Mr Dempsey was more positive. In glorious sunshine he joined children with painted faces, parents on bicycles with tow bars, even a bicycle with an on-board barbecue for a fun cycle to launch National Bike Week, an event which was also raising money for Barnardos.
As he completed his jaunt – on an electrically-assisted bicycle – Mr Dempsey said while cycling in Dublin recently he had experienced first-hand some of the difficulties of disappearing cycle lanes and parking in cycle lanes.
The Minister said €5 million was to be spent this year on eliminating problems with cycle lanes and expanding the network nationally. He said applications were also coming in for the development of cycle-only networks across the country, including one from Kerry for a 40km trail.
The bad news on the day was that the cycle ride failed to live up to its target of a record-breaking 2,000 entrants. But the Minister said the forthcoming An Post Meath Heritage Cycle Tour would take place on Sunday, July 5th, and would offer entrants another chance at the record for the biggest organised cycle.