Fury as minister signals backing for new road fees
TRANSPORT Minister Noel Dempsey has been accused of slapping middle Ireland in the face with proposals for new motorway toll charges.
A row has erupted about the potential for hitting motorists with extra charges after Mr Dempsey signalled he will support the move.
Opposition TDs have rounded on the minister, accusing him of insulting middle Ireland and facilitating a "sweetheart" deal between the National Roads Authority (NRA) and motorways operators.
A report to be submitted in the coming weeks could see motorists being slapped with extra charges on several of the country's motorways and dual carriageways.
The plan could result in up to four tolling points being erected on the M50 alone.
Massive opposition is already mounting to the plan but Minister Dempsey has said that the current system can be "unfair".
"There's one section of the M50 tolled so people using one section pay the toll charge. People that use the other end don't pay at all, so it's not a fair and equitable system," he said.
Labour and Fine Gael say that a string of new charges could force drivers off motorways and back onto more dangerous country roads.
But Mr Dempsey argues that the number of people who take backroads in order to avoid tolls is "very low".
But the chairman of the Public Account Committee has strongly criticised the idea, saying it is "an insult to middle Ireland".
Bernard Allen (FG) said that "any such proposals would rightly be seen by the working people of Ireland as a slap in the face".
"I suspect the only reason Minister Dempsey is floating this idea is to soften us up for yet more hikes in fuel duty, which if it is the case, is an exercise so cynical that it's hard to believe that even he would engage in it."
Labour's transport spokesperson Joe Costello was equally critical last night. The Dublin TD said taxpayers are "likely to be stung to the tune of some €100m as a result of a sweetheart deal between the NRA and operators of our motorways".
- Andrew Lynch: Time for 'disaster' Dempsey to go before he does even more damage with his crazy road tolls scheme