Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 9 December 2015
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications
Forthcoming Transport Council Meeting: Discussion with Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport
The purpose of this meeting is to engage with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Paschal Donohoe, on tomorrow's meeting of the EU Council of transport Ministers, at which the debate will focus mainly on social aspects of road transport and road safety. I welcome the Minister and his officials.
I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l)of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the joint committee. If they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given. They are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. I advise them that any submissions or opening statements they have made to the committee will be published on the committee's website after this meeting. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I thank the members for the opportunity to appear before the committee to discuss the Transport Council meeting in Brussels tomorrow. The focus is on a policy debate on the social aspects of road transport and road safety. Apart from these discussions, there will be a number of information items under "any other business", including the European Union's aviation strategy.
I would like to begin by mentioning a number of EU road transport developments. First, as part of a new package of EU road transport legislation that is expected in 2016, the Commission has been undertaking a wide-ranging review of road transport legislation. The Commission has identified a number of difficulties that member states have encountered in the application and enforcement of existing legislation, and plans to introduce a new road package in 2016 to clarify and simplify existing rules. This will allow for more uniform application and enforcement of rules and create a framework for a sustainable, cost-effective and interoperable electronic system of road charging across the Community.
An evaluation of the existing legislation has been carried out by the Commission. The new road package will now go through a number of stages, including public consultation, meetings with member states, consultations on specific topics, and impact assessments, before the Commission presents its proposals in 2016. My Department will continue to engage on all aspects of the development of the new road package through participation in Commission road transport working groups and ongoing liaison with Commission services.
The Commission’s road transport committee has voted in favour of a new draft regulation to supplement Regulation 1071 of 2009 with regard to the classification of serious infringements that may lead to the loss of good repute of a road transport operator and, consequently, the withdrawal of his operator licence. Infringements are to be uniformly classified as serious, very serious and most serious. The harmonised categorisation of infringements is important in ensuring more consistent enforcement across member states.
The purpose of the new regulation is to define the degree of seriousness of infringements by reference to the risk of fatalities or serious injuries and to provide the frequency of occurrence beyond which repeated infringements are more likely to be escalated to a more serious level. Such repeated infringements may lead to the loss of good repute of a road transport operator and, consequently, the withdrawal of his operator licence. The next step will be to present the draft regulation to the Council and Parliament for decision.
Another point to note is that a regulation has recently been passed by the European Parliament providing for technologically updated “smart” tachograph machines for recording drivers’ hours. Tachographs record the driving time and speed of vehicles and are used to determine compliance with driving time rules. Since 2006, all new HGVs and buses have been fitted with digital tachographs, which use driver cards to record driving and rest-time data. The new regulation aims to improve the security, effectiveness, and efficiency of tachograph machines. The regulation comes into effect from March 2016, and manufacturers will subsequently have three years in which to introduce the new-generation tachograph machines in all new vehicles. The new machines will allow for automatic recording using satellite technology, eventual remote access by enforcement authorities, and potential interface with other transport technology systems.
I would like to update the committee on the difficulties facing Irish hauliers in recent months at Calais and Dover ports. A number of Irish hauliers have been fined by the UK authorities for carrying clandestine migrants into the United Kingdom from France. Fines are levied on both the haulage operator and the driver of the truck when migrants are discovered. The fines are reduced significantly, or waived, if the operator and driver can show that all necessary precautions were taken to avoid illegal entry of migrants onto their trucks. My Department’s officials have informed the Irish haulage sector of the security measures required by the UK authorities. We have agreed a process of information exchange with the UK authorities to monitor the situation on Irish hauliers. A number of fines have been cancelled or reduced where operators or drivers, or both, have showed the UK authorities that the required procedures were followed. The situation at Calais and Dover has abated considerably in recent weeks. However, the recent attacks in Paris have resulted in increased security measures generally across the EU and this may have a bearing on the situation. My Department is continuing to keep a watching brief and to maintain communication with the UK authorities. My officials are in regular contact with representatives of the road haulage industry. I have met them myself to discuss this and other matters over recent months and I intend to meet them soon to discuss the latest position.
For the discussion on road safety, I will be focusing my intervention on the specific questions on which Ministers and other attendees have been asked to focus. I plan to outline briefly the new initiatives Ireland is planning to take in 2016 to reduce the number of fatalities and serious road injuries, especially regarding vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists. I will be focusing on relevant planned Road Safety Authority activities in 2016. These will include an education programme, Mobility Matters, rolled out nationally via active retirement groups to increase road safety awareness for older people; a new junior cycle programme to be provided to schools targeting children from 13 to 16 years, with the aim of reducing fatalities and injuries in this vulnerable road-user group; and the development of a new intervention to highlight the danger of low-level speeding, or driving a few kilometres per hour above the speed limit, and the consequences of this for vulnerable road users.
Mass media campaigns in Ireland will continue to prioritise the issue of driver distraction, as well as focusing on the issues of drink-driving, non-seat-belt-wearing and worn tyres. Second, a new education campaign is being planned next year to support the introduction of preliminary roadside testing for drugs. An EU target to reduce serious road injuries would help in providing each member state with a benchmark from which performance could be measured. Such a target would further facilitate and give impetus to the difficult task of producing a comprehensive set of serious road injury data through the linking of multiple sources of information, such as what occurs in hospitals, in respect of law enforcement and with regard to insurance. I will also state that it would be beneficial, were each country to have access to a central technical group at European Union level with expertise in this area. To develop this point further, this follows on from recent discussions in the Council on road safety. Much of what must be done in this area effectively can be handled at national level through national organisations such as the Road Safety Authority. However, I also believe the European Union can play an important role in allowing us to understand what is going on in other countries, allowing us to share what we are doing and to learn from what other countries are doing. If each incremental or small improvement made results in the saving of a single life or the avoidance of a single injury, it is an improvement worth making. One must be open and must be aware of what can be learned from what other member states are doing. The Road Safety Authority has pointed out that such a central resource with expertise in the area of international classification of disease, ICD, and health problems coding, data transformations, linking of datasets and data protection would further enhance the process and the ease with which serious injury data can be captured. Finally, Ireland is happy to examine any measures at EU level that might be of assistance in addressing cross-border enforcement of penalty point or demerit point systems.
Under the "any other business" portion of the meeting tomorrow, information will be given on a number of items including the EU aviation strategy. Ireland supports the revitalisation of efforts by the European Commission to advance the aviation agenda, in particular to enhance aviation safety and to address the competitiveness of the EU aviation sector. The Government will examine the Commission's communication and legislative proposals when they are published. It is too early at this point to comment in detail on the strategy but I will offer a small number of general observations. Ireland is highly supportive of efforts to update the basic regulation of the European Aviation Safety Agency, EASA, on safety of the aviation sector, particularly to include provisions for the safe operation of drones. Extension of the EASA’s remit to cover some aspects of aviation security also may be appropriate, in so far as there are essential interfaces between safety and security, but it will be necessary to carefully consider the detail of these proposals. As for the social dialogue in aviation and the establishment of an EU observatory on jobs and employment, I note work is already under way in this sphere. The regulations on social issues must be such that they can be clearly understood by operators and do not pose a threat to competitiveness. It will be important to ensure that discussion takes place in the appropriate fora, in the recognition that labour law applies to all sectors and not just to aviation. Ireland actively supports EU efforts to negotiate full open skies agreements with third countries. However, there must be an emphasis on the full implementation of existing agreements and the completion of negotiations on agreements for which the Commission already has mandates. All these points will be offered in the spirit that the liberalisation of and competitiveness within European aviation, the vast majority of which has been facilitated by the role of the European Union in this regard, has been to the benefit of commuters, of access and of the growth of Ireland and the economy across Europe.
Other items on the agenda under "any other business" include results of investigations of the crash of the flight MH17, with information from the Netherlands delegation, and election of the council for 2016-19 of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO, with information from the Bulgarian, Cypriot, Czech, Greek, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian, Slovenian and Slovak delegations. Other items include the state of play on ratification of the Luxembourg protocol on matters specific to railway rolling stock to the Convention on International Interests in Mobile Equipment, on which there will be information from the Presidency, rail transport security with information from the Commission on the state of play - this was requested by the French delegation - and the work programme of the incoming Presidency from the Netherlands delegation.
I thank the Chairman and members for the invitation to appear before them and I welcome any question members may have.
I thank the Minister. Before calling on members, I will ask a question myself. The Minister mentioned security a number of times in his address, referred to the Paris outrages and mentioned aviation security. I have read of proposals by airlines to share passenger information with regard to security issues and the possibility of people, who might be going to commit outrages, travelling by air. What is the up-to-date position on that aspect of aviation security?
The particular measure to which the Vice Chairman is referring has been on the agenda for quite some time. My understanding is that it will be considered again by the European Parliament and I understand some Irish MEPs have been supportive of the measure. My own view is any matters that improve the sharing of information regarding passengers and their travelling by air should be considered positively. As for what is likely to be considered in this meeting, the more likely areas of focus will pertain to railway station and rail security. That will follow on from a discussion the Council had in the second half of the last meeting that took place. This is something on which the Government will keep a monitoring brief but because Ireland only has a single line that crosses jurisdictions, between Belfast and Dublin obviously, and has in place good measures in that regard, it is not a matter that will have a considerable direct impact on Ireland at present. The other aspect of safety that could be considered could be the consequences of this in respect of what might happen in Calais and Dover, which in turn could have consequences for issues the Government has been raising on behalf of the Irish road haulage industry.
I thank the Minister for the information regarding the position at Dover and Calais. However, he made reference to new technology, that is, to the introduction of up-to-date tachograph technology. Questions were raised about delays at Calais and Dover but the former in particular, which, if I am correct, resulted in drivers exceeding the driving limits. Does the Minister have a view on whether this new technology would make it more difficult for drivers because of what is happening at present? The Minister has stated that the position at Calais has abated considerably. I acknowledge the Minister focused on the migration issue but I refer to the tachographs and I understand some drivers may have been stopped because they exceeded the driving limits.
Second, the Minister referred to being "highly supportive of efforts to update the basic regulation of the European Aviation Safety Agency, EASA, on safety of the aviation sector, particularly to include provisions for the safe operation of drones". Are drones operating in Ireland or in Irish airspace? Can the Minister elaborate a little further on what precisely this proposal will be and on what will be the Irish position in this regard? The Minister also made reference to road safety and I understand that apart from security issues, most issues the Council will discuss will be about road safety. The Minister spoke about-----
When the Minister spoke about road safety, he referred to "a new intervention to highlight the danger of low-level speeding, or driving a few kilometres per hour above the speed limit, and the consequences of this for vulnerable road users". I am sure everybody here agrees that any effort or initiative to prevent road fatalities or accidents is to be welcomed and actively encouraged. There is a fine line to be drawn here, however. Anybody who drives knows that the modern technology now available in cars can cause a sensation in the cabin of one's car that lulls one into a false feeling of security. One thinks one is driving at a slower speed than one is driving at. I hope the Minister understands what I am saying. The speed of one's car does not always connect with one's brain. Cruise control has been a great innovation. I use it all the time, particularly in urban areas. The speed limits in such areas can be quite complex, particularly around Dublin but also in some other cities in Ireland. I will give the specific example of the M4 motorway, which I often use. When one comes off that road at 120 km/h, one is immediately requested to go down to 60 km/h at a stretch of road that leads one to Palmerstown, where the speed limit is 30 km/h. After one has passed Palmerstown, one travels on a stretch of dual carriageway that has no urban landscape at all but has trees on either side of it. The speed limit on this 2 km or 3 km of road, as far as Inchicore, is 60 km/h. From time to time, I see the Garda road traffic corps supervising drivers on the Palmerstown and Inchicore sides of this dual carriageway. I have no doubt that people are caught speeding at this location, perhaps when they are just a few kilometres over the speed limit.
I understand that the Minister's predecessor embarked on an overall nationwide evaluation of speed limits. Has this exercise been completed? I am not saying it should be easier for drivers to speed, but I think there should be a bit more consistency. If the speed limit goes up and down along a certain route, it is inevitable that drivers are going to get caught. I have mentioned an inconsistency along a stretch of road that was built primarily to increase traffic speed, or to make travel more efficient for commercial and private drivers. There is a similar situation on the Naas Road. The speed limit one has to observe as one comes off the Naas dual carriageway, from the Red Cow as far as this side of Inchicore, goes back down to 50 km/h or 60 km/h. All I am saying is that drivers coming off a high-speed roadway are being asked to reduce their speed in this way immediately. I am not suggesting that the Minister has the solution to this problem. I am raising it in the context of the Council suggestion that we should be more proactive in ensuring those who drive a few kilometres over the speed limit are done for speeding. I wonder whether that is really the best way to go in terms of compliance. Perhaps there is some other way around it. I reiterate that I am in favour of anything that is going to reduce road fatalities. I am concerned that certain inconsistencies, particularly in the examples I have mentioned, may not be helpful as we seek total compliance with the speed limits.
I thank the Senator for his questions. He has put four different points to me. I will start by responding to what he said about the issues that have arisen with tachographs as a consequence of what happened in Calais and Dover recently. He is correct in his identification of the issue that was occurring at that time. Representatives of the road haulage industry raised this matter with us strongly in different forums. As the Senator has said, drivers of haulage vehicles were exceeding their legally permissible driving hours as a result of having to deal with the humanitarian issues that were happening at both ports. A measure known as Article 14.2 was triggered for a specific period of time in recognition of the exceptional circumstances that were leading to these hours being exceeded. It was triggered by the UK because the consequences of this activity were being felt within its jurisdiction. This is a delicate matter that needs to be managed. If a driver exceeds the maximum number of hours, that can contribute to fatigue and lead to road safety issues. The Article 14.2 measure was triggered for a very specific period of time for very specific reasons. The period of time for which it was triggered has now lapsed. As I mentioned in my opening contribution, we are now engaging directly with the relevant UK authorities. We are asking them to share with us the details of any case in which an Irish haulage company ends up being involved in a matter like this. We are working with the UK enforcement bodies to ask for the exceptional nature of what is happening there to be recognised. This is having a significant effect on the Irish haulage industry because so much of our access to the single European market takes place through the UK.
They are co-operating very strongly with us. I have to put it on the record that they are working closely with us. It is understandable that members of the road haulage industry will want to raise with us the kinds of issues and matters of concern that are arising in this context. I assure the Senator that we are being as co-operative as possible with the industry and the UK bodies on this issue. We have put a great deal of time and effort into this matter. I have done so personally.
The answer to the Senator's question about drones is "Yes". The number of drones in operation in Ireland at the moment is growing. The Irish Aviation Authority is considering new regulations for their use in Ireland and will make a decision on the matter shortly. Any new regulations will have to be compatible and in line with EU law in this area. Specific attention is being paid to the altitudes at which these units can be operated. Advertising and awareness activity will be in place as we attempt to manage this particular challenge. I believe that in the run-up to Christmas, we will see more and more of these units being bought for recreational and leisure use. I have strongly supported the Irish Aviation Authority on this matter. I think we need to change tack somewhat in recognition of the growing number of these units in this country.
The Senator is right when he says that road safety will be a particular area of focus at tomorrow's meeting. It has been discussed at other meetings I have attended. He spoke about drivers who exceed specific speed limits by a small number of kilometres per hour. The Road Safety Authority is looking at this matter because there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that if one exceeds the speed limit even by a small number of kilometres per hour, it can have a disproportionate effect on the risk of serious injury to other road users. Next year, much if not all of the focus will be on increasing awareness of existing road traffic sanctions. We already have robust laws in this area. Senator Mooney referred to particular roads. Earlier this year, I completed a review of road speed limits. We issued further guidance in relation to national roads on foot of that review. I understand that a review of all existing speed limits in this country will be undertaken over a three-year period. If I am wrong in that respect, I will revert to the Senator. Some speed limits were set by the National Roads Authority, which is now part of Transport Infrastructure Ireland. The vast majority of speed limits were set by local authorities. The review will look at the issue identified by the Senator, which is whether we need to take measures to ensure the speed limits on national roads that become local or regional roads, or national roads that pass through different settings, are more coherent and continuous. I appreciate that the Senator has acknowledged that road safety is one of the reasons that speed limits change in the first place.
These roads can suddenly pass through residential areas, especially in the case of national roads coming into the city centre.
I thank the Minister. Regarding cross-Border co-operation on penalty points and signage, do we make the argument for the northern part of the island on the co-ordination of points? Could the Minister clarify if other countries have similar problems? How do those countries with similar close proximity borders address the cross-border nature of these issues? Is this State pressing home the subject of penalty points? The UK might be a problem but we should be co-ordinating penalty points and signage and it should be a priority.
With regard to drug testing, I understand the Minister will introduce a system properly in 2016 but we need to learn from the different standards and results from other European countries. This is a far bigger contributory problem in accidents than is realised. Accidents happen out of the blue and the drugs factor has not been addressed in the past. European countries who have looked at this issue for longer may be able to offer some statistics.
Could the Minister indicate what issues have arisen regarding Shannon Airport and troop movements across Europe and if this ever comes onto the agenda? Is it left for the Department of Justice to deal with? Is it discussed in general and does the Minister get a feel for whether Ireland is overstepping the mark, or if someone else is overstepping the mark?
Perhaps the Minister could clarify whether the Volkswagen emissions scandal and its repercussions will be on the agenda? It seems to have gone off the radar and there is no sign of anyone being prosecuted. I have not heard anything. The scandal has had huge repercussions across Europe and the world.
With regard to tachographs, could the Minister say if there are plans to increase the speed limits on tachographs or will the same standards remain? Has Europe changed its position on those speed limits? It is said that the tachograph devices will be accessed externally to the vehicle so they can be monitored, which is a good idea. Some people are wary of the way tachograph limits are set and many are not happy with the limits.
The Minister has spoken on many occasions about the lowering of speed limits on carriageways. Europe has been of the opinion that carriageways should have a certain speed limit, in Ireland it is 120 km/h. There is a feeling that the speed limit on the main carriageway should be a little higher compared to other national secondary roads. Can the Minister indicate if this subject has been discussed? There has been talk of reducing the speed limit to 20 km/h in some residential housing estates. Would this opinion prevail in Europe or is it thought to be unfeasible and that 30 km/h should be the minimum? It is not clear what approach Europe has.
Cameras are now being used with drones in a big way. The Minister is correct when he spoke about the possibilities now, given the advances in electronics, for children and all people. I assume from what the Minister has said that limits may be set on the travel distances and flying heights for drones. It is an interesting matter. Can the Minister clarify if there is evidence that the use of these drones has an affect on aviation or interferes with electronic equipment? Air passengers are instructed to switch off certain equipment while flying but is there any evidence to suggest a danger from drones?
I thank the Deputy. I will work through the different questions he has posed. The UK is the key issue when we seek to deal with cross-border recognition of speed limits. The Deputy is correct when he said the UK opted out of a convention - I believe it was under the Lisbon treaty but I am happy to be corrected - which created a challenge for Ireland. A successful agreement has been negotiated on this between us and the British Government which will require legislation. That will be included in the Road Traffic Act 2016 for which Cabinet approval will be sought next week. When that legislation is in place it will be enacted by the Dáil during the first half of 2016, which will then give primary legislative underpinning to the new arrangement between Ireland and the UK. Much work has been done between us and the Northern Ireland Executive on the technical matters and that work is ongoing. However, the new legal framework will be in place early in 2016 depending on the formation of the new Dáil and other matters.
I agree with Deputy Ellis's comments on drug testing. The evidence of Professor Denis Cusack from the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, supplied to this committee and on which he has spoken publicly, says that drugs are a significant factor in accidents on our roads, especially when combined with alcohol. The matter will be a priority for me in 2016. When this legislation is enacted we can begin work on the practical implementation of the Bill. I appreciate the support of the select committee here last week in agreeing the Supplementary Estimate which provides the funding to purchase the devices to be used on the roads in 2016.
I will now turn to the Deputy's query on Shannon Airport and the troop movement issue. During my participation in the transport Council over the last 18 months the topic of Shannon has not come up. Airport security is an issue that does feature but the particular matter of troop movements in Shannon tends to be something I would deal with domestically, given the specific responsibility I have for that area. General matters on foreign and justice policy would be dealt with by my colleagues in those respective areas.
The Volkswagen topic has not gone off the boil at all. I had a meeting in Dublin a few weeks ago with the Commissioner responsible for this area. The Single Market section of the Commission has responsibility for this area. Work is now under way to accelerate progress to real-time testing of emissions. At the last Council discussion on this I emphasised the support the Government has for this process.
With regard to tachographs, we are not making any proposals on the speed limit changes. The review will be general and the speed limits may be considered. However, from our national perspective we believe the speed limits currently in place are appropriate.
The Deputy is correct that remote access of tachograph units may be considered in the light of the review. I would be willing to consider and support such a facility if evidence was to emerge that it could make a contribution to driver safety and road safety in general.
It is left to national governments to decide how to implement speed limits. A number of other European states have implemented significantly lower speed limits in residential settings than those in place here. In some cases, they have been introduced by local rather than national authorities. The Road Traffic Bill 2016 will include provision for lower speed limits in residential areas. This is being done in response to work undertaken by the joint committee and concerns raised with me. We are making considerable progress in the roll-out of new signage with lower speed limits in residential communities. These new limits will apply in what will be known as home zones, for which new signage will be provided to inform drivers of the new limits. Good work has been done in this regard this year.
The Deputy is correct on the issue of drones. Last summer I attended an open day or information seminar organised by the Irish Aviation Authority on remote piloted aviation systems, RPAS, otherwise known as drones. I met representatives of a number of companies involved in this area and was struck by the significant number of them that were using data capture through video recording on RPAS. This technology is having a major effect on a large number of industries. My understanding was that it was primarily used for ordnance mapping. However, I have since learned that drones are increasingly being used in agriculture, infrastructure safety monitoring and construction. On my visits to the United States and the Continent earlier this year, I concluded that the development of these technologies would be the next phase in the development of global aviation. For this reason, we are examining whether appropriate safety and security regulations are in place for drone systems.
I thank the Minister for his presentation. I also welcome his decision to allow different operators to apply to operate haulier training courses.
Irish lorry drivers have been caught up in difficulties in France. We are hearing from them that they were being threatened with harsh fines and that wagons were being damaged by stones and other items thrown at them. Tachograph readings were also presenting a problem because they were being delayed through no fault of their own. The Minister referred to satellites in the context of tachographs. Does this mean that a lorry can be tracked at all times by the satellite system to which he referred? Some haulage company owners can track their lorries. The Minister's reference to satellites makes me wonder if we are going down the road of satellite monitoring.
A degree of tolerance must be shown to lorry drivers. If a driver is within 30 minutes or one hour of Holyhead, it is asking a great deal of him to pull up on the side of the road because he has done a certain number of hours, especially if the ferry is about to leave. The haulage industry operates within tight time constraints and must be shown a little tolerance. For example, a driver could be allowed to exceed the limit once per week provided he or she has a genuine reason for doing so.
The Minister referred to our European partners and everyone working together. Is it the case that French drivers are not taking the certificate of professional competence, CPC, course? I understand French hauliers have refused to take the course which hauliers in other countries take.
The Minister referred to a new system to be introduced to help younger and older drivers. A problem arose for people who had obtained their licence some years ago and were then required to obtain a trailer licence. Through no fault of their own, some of them did not go to school for long. The idea appears to be that in different towns they sit in the back of a van and take a test pressing buttons. They are sweating even before they start the test. Many of them are excellent drivers who could back up a trailer from here to Galway. However, they are fearful. Why do we not take a two-prong approach, with some people takiing the theory test and others engaging in a type of apprenticeship, perhaps in Mondelo Park or a similar facility, that would not frighten them?
Lorry drivers exiting the M7 and joining the M8 and vice versa must pay two tolls. Drivers have contacted me about this issue because the configuration of these two roads means that they must travel east first before they are able to head west. I ask the National Transport Authority to examine this issue to ensure some common sense is brought to bear.
On aviation and drones, I note that doctors in the Netherlands can send a drone in cases where people have had a heart attack. Is there a threat that Russia or another country is spying on Ireland using drones?
The Deputy does not need to canvass. Is the Department working on specifications, for example, of the size of drones used? In the Netherlands drones are used to provide rapid assistance for people living in remote areas, which is great. I presume Ireland and other countries will extend the use of drone technology. Do specifications apply to drones and must a licence be obtained to use them?
Some months ago someone proposed that lorry drivers test themselves or have a doctor brought to their yard to carry out testing for alcohol and drug use. I thought at the time that the idea was crazy. Has it been hit on the head? Is the common-sense approach of having such tests carried out on the roadside being pursued instead? The idea of having lorry owners call a doctor once or twice a year to come out and test drivers does not make sense.
I acknowledge the considerable difficulties Irish haulage companies were facing in France. We invested a considerable effort in dealing with tachograph readings and the recording of time. The decision the British Government had to make provided the background to the triggering of section 14.2, which we discussed earlier.
The Deputy referred to fines, an issue that has been raised directly with me and my officials. We have asked representatives of the haulage industry to provide details because we are working with the UK authorities on a case by case basis. While I consistently state we respect their independence and right to make decisions in these matters, we have drawn to their attention mitigating factors, including current events, which may mean that drivers find themselves in difficulty through no fault of their own. We have asked the two representative bodies of the haulage sector to share details of specific cases with us. We will co-operate with the UK authorities to ascertain whether the matters can be handled differently. We have achieved some success in having fines reduced. We will continue to work on this issue because it is ongoing, although the problem has abated somewhat compared to the position that obtained earlier in the year.
The Deputy raised an issue related to the certificate of professional competence, CPC.
I have just checked with officials who are with me and we are not aware of the matter to which the Deputy is referring. However, the certificate is a requirement.
We will check it. My Department is not aware of that point so we will check it and get back to the Deputy on it.
The Deputy has raised the testing issues with me before in the Dáil during the debate on the Road Traffic Bill 2015 and I know it is a matter of concern to him. It is a matter that causes difficulty to people but all I can say is that anything we do is done with the objective of driver safety and the safety of other road users. That being said, we always keep measures under review to see if they are proportionate and operating the way in which we intended. I believe the current system is proportionate but it is a matter we keep under review because the aim is to be effective in making roads safer for everybody.
One could go to a testing place with the rules of the road and different signs on display, where some people might feel more comfortable undergoing the test, like an apprenticeship in a vehicle, rather than having to concentrate on learning from a book and worrying about it. The fear factor is the problem.
The Road Safety Authority is the body that does the work for us on this. I will pass the Deputy's view on to it and get a briefing on how it is being implemented.
On the point about drones, I agree with the Deputy. As I said earlier in response to Deputy Ellis, this is the next phase of development in aviation that will have a tangible effect on all our lives. The Deputy referred to Holland and the delivery of prescriptions. Large Internet shopping companies in America have talked about this in terms of delivering goods directly to people's homes. It is the next wave of development. Given the sophistication and electoral success of all members here, I will not rule out some of them integrating it into their forthcoming election campaigns. The Irish Aviation Authority is now looking at some of the matters raised by the Deputy on the size of drones, where they can fly, and particularly the altitudes at which they can fly. Altitude is one of the key issues. There will be a register put in place to record these units and the relevant forms will be supplied with drones that are purchased during the Christmas period. There will be a need to more actively monitor this in the future, given the greater size and use of drones.
On the Deputy's final point on the testing of new road traffic legislation for small haulage companies, it is a point I acknowledge needs further work and is not provided for in the Road Traffic Bill 2015.
I thank the Minister for his comprehensive outline of what he intends to discuss tomorrow. I will go through it briefly as others have covered most of what I wanted to say. On the issue of road safety and the introduction of the road package for 2016, how is the Minister moving towards the interconnectedness of the penalty point system in different states? We have the greatest interaction with our nearest neighbour but there is a view that penalty points collected in France, for example, should apply to an Irish person's licence when they come home in order to improve driver behaviour. Will the Minister indicate whether any discussions have taken place on that issue?
The technology aspect is important. I concur with the points made and I have spoken with the Minister before about the issues in Calais. I was there during the summer with the Road Haulage Association, which has been making good headway with the Department and the authorities in the UK on avoiding the kind of sanctions that were in place. The Minister has provided considerable assurance on that issue, which has been helpful to the industry. The tailing-off of activity at present is a result of the weather. The expectation is based on hostilities continuing in the zones of conflict. The numbers of refugees have been tailing off during the winter period but as spring moves into summer again there will be a continued movement. It is an issue that needs to be monitored on a continuing basis.
On the road safety issue, the Minister knows that in some European countries there are incentives aimed at improving driver behaviour through advanced learning and back to education driver improvement courses. Has the Minister a view on the introduction of such a system here whereby if somebody takes part in such a programme, a number of penalty points would be expunged from their tally? It has been successfully implemented in many countries in Europe and the United States. What is the Minister's view on it? Is it something he expects will be part of the overall package in the sense of a broader interconnectedness, rather than a complete harmonisation of policy across Europe?
I concur with almost all of the other speakers on the issue of drones. It is fantastic technology which has huge benefits but I have some concerns in the short term about the impact on civil aviation. The Minister has rightly identified the issues around altitudes and locations in and around airports.
Regarding the Road Safety Authority's activities and programmes for 2016, there is an awareness campaign for active retirement groups for senior citizens and I am hopeful it will be rolled out throughout the country. Some communities may not have an active retirement group. Will the RSA have a mechanism to reach out to such communities? It is a welcome and important initiative.
Is there a possibility that it will be extended to school programmes? I also welcome the junior cycle programme for 13 to 16 year olds in our schools. Perhaps the road safety initiative of the RSA could work in conjunction with that. I became aware recently of the issue of the suitability of side mirrors on bicycles. It is worth thinking about. I do not know how feasible it is but perhaps the Minister will communicate it to the RSA. I believe roadside drug testing will be introduced in 2016. Will the Minister provide further information on what will be involved in that?
We have to accept the advent of the drone system, which is being introduced so rapidly that legislation and licensing is not yet in place. Drones are already used in the agriculture and medical industries with good effect.
These developments were raised with me recently by a person who had been in the United States. He suggested that they could be extended to the Garda force for the detection of rural crime in particular. This could be a useful addition to the equipment of our Garda force, particularly for rural Ireland, where we have extensive tracts of remote and isolated areas and people living in fear. We have seen several examples, and many cases are not reported. There are marauding gangs going around. I believe this equipment could be effectively put into operation as a resource. Will the Minister contact the Minister for Justice and Equality with a view to giving consideration to this option? I believe this is in operation in the justice system in the United States in some shape or form for crime prevention, surveillance and so on. I am calling for the matter to be followed up with the Minister for Justice and Equality.
I have noticed another phenomenon over several years. We have more trucks and articulated lorries on the road at the moment, which is great. The economy is certainly on the right track and that is good for everyone. However, I have noticed the spray effect coming from trucks when travelling on the highway to the House. I am unsure whether something is missing from these vehicles or the regulations are not being enforced enough. Anyway, there is a high volume and content of spray. There is certainly a road safety aspect to this for a driver who may be overtaking these trucks. It is not common to every vehicle. However, there may be something lacking in some of the vehicles that would otherwise reduce the effect.
We have discussed aviation and Irish airspace. What monitoring is being carried out on aircraft coming into Irish airspace in respect of which prior notice may not be given to the authorities? There have been several incidents off the west coast in particular. I presume some aircraft are carrying out surveillance. Have we any statistics?
We have correspondence that comes up in our regular meetings. It relates to a debate in the Dutch Parliament about what the relevant people refer to as multi-modal travel information services under Directive 2010/EU/40. It relates to ticketing. I read through some of the documents. The aim is to make more efficient use of public transport for the consumer. How far advanced are we in terms of the multi-ticketing model in Ireland? Is it fully integrated? Is it about to be? What is the position? This issue is coming up and we have noted the item. I figured it might be relevant. Is this something that will come up at the Council or is it a completely separate issue?
I will begin with Deputy Dooley's questions. Most of the matters relating to the recognition of penalty points within different countries are being handled on a bilateral basis at the moment. There are different systems in place in different countries. At the moment I am prioritising how we deal with this issue between ourselves and the United Kingdom. The details will be contained in the road traffic Bill, which I hope will be published before the end of this year.
Deputy Dooley made the point that we are dealing with a different phase of the humanitarian difficulties in Calais and Dover, as opposed to the end of them, and I agree with him. Certainly, I have no wish to indicate that I believe the matter has come to an end. Of course it has not; it is ongoing. As Deputy Dooley has said, for a number of different reasons it is in a different phrase of intensity compared to earlier this year.
Deputy Dooley made a point on the role of training schemes and how they might lead to reductions in the number of penalty points issued. He has raised this matter in recent days. As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have to consider all measures that could make a difference. My initial reaction is that I have no wish to put anything in place that could lead to a reduction in the genuine deterrent that the system of penalty points offers. Anyway, Deputy Dooley made a point about the need for further study. I believe the matter should be looked at and it certainly will be.
We have discussed the question of the interface between drones and civil aviation. I agree with Deputy Dooley that we are going to have to deal carefully with this matter, because we will see more of these units in future. It is going to require more work and focus.
Deputy Fleming put several points to me. If an area does not have an active retirement group, I imagine the Road Safety Authority would try to find a different way of making that information available. Deputy Fleming asked how we could extend this in schools. As he said, the first phase will involve pupils between the ages of 13 and 16 years.
Deputy Fleming raised the question of information on roadside drug testing. When we publish the Bill I hope to be in a position to give this information to the Deputy through the explanatory memorandum.
Deputy Fleming made another point about the role of drones in the work of the Garda Síochána. By virtue of the fact that these units can move quickly and operate efficiently, they could well play a role in future. Obviously, that is a matter for the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Garda Commissioner.
Deputy Fleming also referred to articulated lorries and the spray effect. I will mention the matter to the Road Safety Authority. I imagine this is one reason the RSA has a focus on the need for a safe distance between vehicles, so that when the spray is generated it is does not immediately get in the way of or reduce the visibility of drivers.
Deputy Fleming put a point to me on airspace. Sovereign airspace has a 12 mile limit around the jurisdiction, our country. We have no evidence at the moment of incursions into sovereign airspace. Of course, activity proximate or adjacent to our airspace is monitored by the Irish Aviation Authority. I am keen to relay to Deputy Fleming that we have no evidence of incursions into the airspace of our country, our sovereign airspace.
Senator Mooney put a question to me relating to the roll-out of Leap cards. We sold the millionth Leap card earlier this year. The next phase of the development of Leap cards will be through their roll-out in cities throughout Ireland, particularly through integration with the systems of Bus Éireann. That is the way we are going to do it and we have plans in place. This is purely a matter of national competence. Any discussions that take place in the European Union relate only to information sharing rather than anything else.
Many lorry drivers are on the road to make a living. They are more at risk of penalty points. The Minister made reference to being a few kilometres per hour over the speed limit. Can we consider a system for professional drivers whereby they might pay a fine first time around and get a slap on the wrist second time around if they are only over the limit by a few kilometres per hour? It can happen. Everyone is human and this will happen. These people are at greater risk because they are on the road constantly. Can this be looked at?
The Road Safety Authority keeps matters under review at all times. On the issue the Deputy raises, I will ask for information on whether professional drivers, particularly in the road haulage industry, are more likely than other road users to receive penalty points or have sanctions imposed on them. I am not aware if that is the case. However, I will check the position on behalf of the Deputy to determine whether there is any basis for introducing the type of change he suggests. Tachograph devices record speed as well as the periods during which a vehicle is being driven. Given that this information is captured at all times, I expect that the safety records of professional drivers must be very good. I am genuinely reluctant to make changes that would reduce the deterrent effect of road safety legislation. However, I will soon meet representatives of the Irish road haulage industry to discuss other matters. Perhaps I will ask them at that meeting for their perspective on the implementation of the law. We may be able to make some progress on that basis.