Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 30 June 2021
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport
General Scheme of the Road Traffic (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2019: Minister for Transport
Apologies have been received from Senator Craughwell. The purpose of our meeting is to continue our pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme of the Road Traffic (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2019. On behalf of the committee I welcome to today's meeting the Minister for Transport and Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Ryan. His officials, Mr. Ray O’Leary, assistant secretary, Ms Mary Lally, principal officer, Mr. Ross Hattaway, principal officer and Mr. Oisín Timoney, assistant principal are all most welcome.
I will now read the note on privilege. Witnesses are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name, or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable, or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that they comply with any such direction. For witnesses who are attending remotely from outside of the Leinster House campus, there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege. As such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness who is physically present does. Witnesses participating in this committee session from a jurisdiction outside of the State are advised that they should also be mindful of their domestic law and how it may apply to the evidence that they give.
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 of the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I remind members of the constitutional requirement that members must be physically present within the confines of the place which Parliament has chosen to sit, namely, Leinster House and-or the Convention Centre Dublin, in order to participate in public meetings. I will not permit members to participate where they are not adhering to this constitutional requirement. Therefore, any member who attempts to participate from outside of the precincts will reluctantly be asked to leave the meeting. In this regard, I ask members partaking via Microsoft Teams that, prior to making their contribution to the meeting, they confirm that they are on the grounds of Leinster House campus. For anyone watching this meeting online, Oireachtas Members and witnesses are accessing this meeting remotely. Only I, as Chair, and the necessary staff essential to running the meeting are present in the committee room. Due to these unprecedented circumstances, and the large number of people attending the meeting remotely, I ask for everyone's forbearance should any technical issues arise.
I now call on the Minister to make his opening statement. He will appreciate that we are confined to two hours. I know he has quite a long statement. He might, in his own way, perhaps give an abridged version of his large opening statement. We will cover the main points and then we can get into questioning.
I thank the Chairman. I will try to do that. I thank the committee for inviting me here today to talk about our road traffic Bill 2021. As the Chairman said, I am joined today by my assistant secretary, Mr. Ray O’Leary, and other officials involved in the delivery of this legislation.
Safety in all areas of transport has always been the highest priority of my Department. In the area of road safety, Ireland has made significant strides in the past but we need to do more to reduce deaths and serious injuries on our roads. The Bill will address a number of important issues that will add to road safety. I am sure the committee will want to see this moved on from pre-legislative scrutiny to publication as soon as possible.
This Bill began life under the previous Government and was delayed first by the election and then the pandemic. As a result, issues have arisen since it began and preparation can now be addressed, in particular some commitments in our programme for Government. Some of these additional matters may be included in the published Bill, while some may have to be introduced as amendments on Committee Stage. What I propose to do here is outline the main issues to be addressed in the Bill.
On the issue of the master licence record, my Department holds the legal records of driving licences and vehicle ownership. At present, these records cannot be linked. This has created difficulties in linking road traffic offences to specific licence records, particularly in cases which come before the courts. As a result, people's penalty points and disqualifications, which should be marked on people’s records, are not, and these people may continue to drive on our roads while disqualified. The Bill will address this by requiring people registering vehicle ownership to provide a unique identifier allowing a link to a driver licence record. This will mean that even if people fail to produce a driving licence in court, we will be able to identify their driving licence record from their vehicle and apply the appropriate points or disqualification.
Further legislation is included to enhance the motor third-party liability database for all motor insurance policies in the State. The aim is to tackle uninsured driving, reduce the risk to law-abiding motorists and cut the cost of insurance.
With regard to traffic management, Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, is investing in a project to allow for what is called dynamic traffic management on the M50 motorway. This will involve varying speed limits to manage traffic flow as well as lane closures where appropriate. The Bill will contain measures to make regulations to provide the signage and allow it to set the speed limits.
The committee has expressed an interest, as have many other Members of the Dáil, in how we plan to legislate for e-scooters. I will be proposing to define a new class of vehicles called powered personal transporters, PPT, which will include e-scooters. Once PPTs are vehicles legally usable in public, it will become possible to make regulations for standards and safety. I know there are different views on this and I would be happy to discuss it further with the committee.
Scrambler motorbikes are again an issue of significant interest to a large number of our colleagues within the Oireachtas. The Government has committed to act against people who engage in anti-social use of scramblers, quads and other vehicles with legislation to enhance Garda powers if necessary.
The Government has also committed in its programme to act against people who engage in antisocial use of scramblers, quads and other vehicles, with legislation to enhance Garda powers if necessary. The antisocial use of these vehicles ruins the enjoyment of public amenities for everyone else, and risks causing death or serious injury. We will legislate to create a new ministerial power to make regulations which will address the use of scramblers and similar vehicles in places where they are not appropriate, such as parks and amenity areas. The Garda will be empowered to detain and dispose of vehicles used contrary to the new legislation. It will also have power to enter premises where vehicles are kept, so that they can seize vehicles suspected of having been used contrary to the new regulations.
With regard to the testing of automated vehicles, AVs, we are going to legislate to allow for the safe testing of automated vehicles on our roads. It is likely to be a good many years before AVs are widely available on the market, but a great deal of development work is under way, and this inevitably means they will have to be tested in real-life situations.
Members of the committee will be familiar with the planned BusConnects project. It was originally my intention to have a separate Bill which would introduce legislation needed to underpin BusConnects, but this would not be possible in the available time. My officials are therefore working with the Office of the Attorney General to introduce amendments to the present Bill to provide the necessary legislation to enable BusConnects to go ahead. This is still in progress, and at this point the precise provisions have yet to be settled.
The Bill also covers an extensive range of other areas that are far too numerous to mention in this opening statement. In the current timeframe, very near the summer recess, it is unlikely the Bill will be before the Houses before the autumn. However, I would very much appreciate if the committee could reach its conclusions on pre-legislative scrutiny quickly in order that we can publish the Bill for Deputies and Senators to consider and then proceed to debate it in the Houses as soon as possible after the summer recess.
I thank the Minister for accommodating us on the time. I now invite members for questions. I call Deputy Cathal Crowe. As Deputy Crowe is not in Leinster House, I call Deputy McAuliffe, who is substituting for his colleague, Deputy O’Connor.
I thank the Chair and committee for allowing me to be here. The Minister is bringing forward important legislation. It is trying to include as much reform as is possible in one piece of legislation. The area in which I have a particular interest is the issue of scrambler bikes. I thank everybody who has been involved in campaigning on this issue, primarily the communities throughout the country who have been impacted. Whether you are in Ballyfermot, Ballymun, Finglas or parts of Limerick, you will be impacted by this issue. While it has been dealt with many times in the Dáil, the Minister is bringing forward legislation that will comprehensively deal with it. I thank people in the communities who campaigned. I also thank the other Opposition parties who brought forward Bills in this area, including us when were in opposition. I thank all the parties that will support this.
I urge the committee to do everything it can to support the Minister to get this legislation through. The changes in this legislation will save lives. It does two things. In essence, it gives gardaí the powers to seize these vehicles without having to pursue the person involved. Often, the person involved is a child and we do not want to put that person at risk. Even though he or she might be creating terror in his or her community, we do not want a situation where that child is injured in a pursuit by gardaí. This is a significant change in policy. Gardaí would have the power to go onto the curtilage of someone’s property to take a vehicle they believe has been used illegally as a scrambler. That will significantly assist gardaí in our communities. The legislation also brings forward a change which will mean that certain places where we would not have been able to limit or prohibit the use of scramblers because they were not covered by the road traffic Acts now will be covered.
It was always the case that changing this provision would be difficult because of the common law casebook that so finely balances the definition of a public place. The Minister and the Attorney General have been creative in how they have brought forward this amendment that designates a new category of vehicles. I thank the Minister for both of those provisions. He has been joined in it by the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, who has brought both carrot and stick with proposals to allow youth services to deal with this issue by providing alternative diversion activities as well as for the safe use of scrambler bikes in designated places.
I ask the Chair, members of the committee, and Minister, Deputy Ryan, to do whatever they can to get this legislation through, because while I accept the focus is more wide-ranging than the issue of scrambler bikes, I know many communities throughout the country will thank them for getting it through because this legislation will save lives.
Maybe in the Minister’s response he might address something he touched on briefly in his opening address and give more details on the timeframe in terms of publishing the full legislation, when he expects it to go to Second Stage and Committee Stage, and put a bit more flesh on the timeframe. It was a point Deputy McAuliffe raised, but I am putting firm direction on the question itself.
On the issue of scramblers, I thank Deputy McAuliffe and number of other Deputies. I realise this is a critical issue for their communities, for protecting our local environment and our people. The positive side is creating facilities to give our young people outlets to use these devices safely. Both carrot and stick are important, and we need the legislative constraints. The programme for Government commitment came from a number of Deputies, and there is urgency in terms of getting legislation through on that as well as a number of other permissions.
On the issue of publication, my interest for this and a number of other issues which are in the legislation is for as much speed as possible. My understanding is we have to get through the pre-legislative scrutiny process, so that, in a sense, is the first hurdle we need to get over. Publication would be soon as possible after that. If it were possible to do it before summer recess, I would do it. It is probably more likely to be published early in the return. My expectation is to go straight into the Dáil. This legislation is needed for a variety of different reasons: for scramblers, e-bikes, variable speed limits, for BusConnects - I could go on. There is time urgency. My expectation is we publish it as soon as we can after pre-legislative scrutiny, and then into the Dáil as soon as we can. It is unlikely we will get it before the recess. I expect this in the Dáil as soon as the Dáil returns at the end of September.
On that, our understanding is the Bill is being drafted at the moment. On the logistics of having the Bill published, outside of pre-legislative scrutiny, does the Minister have a timeframe for that?
I accept that. My understanding is there was work going on. Let me put another way to the Minister. Is there further work to be done, outside of what he has given us here in the brief, around anything to do with the Bill?
I know my time is up, Chair, but I would indicate that the Private Members’ Bill before the committee in my name and that of Deputy Lahart deals largely with the issues the Minister has raised. I indicate that at this early stage, in case it helps the committee with its work programme. When the legislation comes forward, it may be a matter of withdrawing it at that stage.
My question relates to electric scooters. Will the Minister outline the steps the Department intends to take to ensure there is regulation of these vehicles in a way that makes their use safe and on a moderate scale, and that the large rental contracts are not awarded without first conducting viability pilots?
This is another very significant aspect of the legislation. A large number of people are currently using these scooters in a way that is not regulated. Several countries have introduced regulation in this area, which means we are able to look at best practice. There is an interesting paper, to which I refer members before we get to Committee Stage, in which the Road Safety Authority looks at the experience in other jurisdictions. It provides a very useful background to the regulations we intend to introduce. In effect, we are looking at regulations that are similar in many regards to those relating to bicycles. It is about issues like the appropriate place on the road to use e-scooters and advice regarding helmet use. Helmets are not mandatory for e-scooter users because they are not licensed vehicles. In that sense, they are more akin to a bicycle than a motor car.
There is a need for regulations on speed and we can look to international examples in this regard. Typically, 25 km or so is the speed limit set for on-road use. The power output of the vehicles can be set as part of the regulations. Occasionally, scooters may be used on the pavement for particular local reasons. In those circumstances, the scooter is more akin to a pedestrian vehicle and speeds must be brought down to pedestrian levels. There are good examples of international best practice on regulation. Another aspect to consider is that in cities where an unregulated scooter hire system has been introduced, the vehicles have, in effect, ended up littering the streets. E-scooters certainly have key benefits but their unfettered use under unregulated hiring arrangements creates problems. That has to be part of the regulation. The most important part of the legislation, however, is the introduction of basic regulations on speed, place on the road and so on. Passing this Bill will allow us to put those regulations in place.
In the context of efforts to replace the car, we are doing a very good job in terms of encouraging bicycle use and increasing public transport provision. A study in Paris showed that just 4% of motorists replaced their car with an e-scooter. The danger level associated with these vehicles is something I hope we can address in this Bill. I have a huge concern about the danger level of e-scooters versus bicycles. We should all support what the Minister is trying to do in the Bill.
I thank the Minister for his opening statement and the notes he provided. I have a question on the master licence record and the motor third-party liability database. The committee sought advice from the Data Protection Commission, DPC, in this regard. I do not know whether the Minister has had sight of it. The advice outlined a number of observations and comments that are important and should be considered by the Department in preparing this legislation. There was an issue raised in regard to the use of PPS numbers, for example, and the sharing, management and control of sensitive information in databases. People will have legitimate concerns about what access the insurance industry has to their information, how it is using it and how it potentially could use it. Has the Minister seen the advice from the DPC and, if so, does he have any comments on it?
The Deputy is absolutely right about the importance of good data governance and the whole issue, particularly in the public sphere, of the use of data, privacy concerns and limiting sharing of information. That will be critical. The assistant secretary of my Department, Mr. O'Leary, might comment on this. He may have more specifics on the discussions with the Data Protection Commissioner.
Mr. Ray O'Leary:
I assure the Deputy that we have worked very closely with the Data Protection Commission on this issue. Indeed, the provisions regarding the motor third-party liability database have been updated and amended in light of the general data protection regulation, GDPR. The Department has had detailed engagement and worked closely with the DPC to ensure the amending legislation will meet data protection requirements. That is something we do regularly because of the number of areas in which we keep personal data in respect of both driver licences and vehicles. We have a close and ongoing engagement with that office. The DPC cannot do its job and we cannot do ours without our working closely together.
I thank Mr. O'Leary. A somewhat related issue was brought to my attention by another good Cork man, Deputy Gould. It concerns the sale of vehicles to people who either do not have a licence, perhaps because they are under age, or have a licence that is suspended for whatever reason. There was at least one example of a tragic outcome in such circumstances in Cork. I want to flag this issue and ask that it be considered. It might be something we can look at on later Stages of the Bill.
Mr. Ray O'Leary:
That is exactly the kind of issue we are looking at. The master licence record and the motor third-party liability database are the very building blocks we need to control this type of issue. It is legal to own a car without having a licence, but not legal to drive it. Any further controls in that regard are not viable without putting in place the master licence record. That is the infrastructure by which we can regulate this kind of activity.
That is helpful. I have a couple of points for the Minister. There is a huge amount contained in the Bill and it is doing a huge amount of work. In regard to changes to the regulation of driving instruction, I encourage the Minister to engage with the sector. The committee has met with representatives of driving instructors. They are organised and engaged as they try to come out of the Covid period and deal with the significant backlog in driving tests and lessons. I want to flag again that there are ongoing issues in regard to access to testing centres. As I have been saying for many months, this issue is resolvable and it should be resolved at the earliest possible opportunity.
The premise of this legislation is, of course, safety. In that context I wish to raise the issue of driver theory tests. We are back since 8 June and I hear from colleagues throughout the country of ongoing problems in accessing theory tests. It is fair enough if these are online or other technological issues that are being addressed. However, my local newspaper, which I picked up on the way to work this morning, as I do every week, featured an article on the theory test. People from Donegal and Dublin, along with local people, travelled to the theory test centre in Navan on Saturday for scheduled appointments. The testing centre never opened, for whatever reason. There was no explanation from the Road Safety Authority, RSA, or anybody else. It was very frustrating for people who had organised themselves to get the theory test done. I ask for an update. Is the Minister hearing about this? What is the issue and when will it be resolved?
This Bill is full of examples, which I did not mention in my opening statement, of many legislative changes that are important in the sector. One example is driving instruction. We will legislate for people who test members of the Garda, fire brigades and the National Ambulance Service. As you can imagine, those drivers have specific powers and responsibilities in being able to drive in certain ways on the roads. The testers for those require regulatory powers and they are given in the Bill.
There is a very clear political imperative to scale up our abilities so that we can clear the backlogs in both the theory and driving tests. Any cases where, for example, a theory test centre is not open when someone was informed it would be is obviously of real concern. I do not have details on that. I have some statistics for the three weeks to 21 June. Some 21,176 tests were scheduled and 16,493 were undertaken, for which there was a pass rate of 12,871 and a failure rate of 3,622. There were also no-shows, for a variety of reasons, numbering 3,061, which has been an issue, possibly because we are dealing with a backlog legacy. We are very keen to clear that backlog. There is no shortage of resources, going online in the case of the theory test and hiring additional theory test staff and driving instructors, so I am confident we will be able to clear the backlog.
It is a frustration for people whose tests have been postponed on a number of occasions and who have been waiting a number of months. I understand the rationale but, if there are cancellations, I call for people who have been waiting the longest to be prioritised and dealt with first, if at all possible.
I apologise to the Chairman. I was speaking in the Chamber earlier. I thank the Minister for coming to today's meeting. I read his witness statement and will put a few points to him. It is very important the legislation captures existing forms of e-transport but it is equally important that it future-proofs things as well. As I understand it, the Road Traffic Acts date back to the 1960s. That body of legislation has been overhauled over the years, but who would have foreseen two-wheeled hoverboards or e-scooters? I remember seeing an e-scooter for the first time two years ago in Dublin and now they are everywhere. It is very important we future-proof this legislation.
On e-bikes, the Minister will be glad to hear I have been cycling to the Dáil lately. I have subscribed to the Dublinbikes scheme, which I find fantastic for nipping around the city and getting to and from meetings. It is of concern that half of the Dublinbikes fleet is e-bikes, yet the battery system has failed. Batteries have gone back overseas to be checked - I am not sure where - but Dublinbikes tells me and many other users of its service that it could be several more months before all of these come back. This has disenfranchised many people and set them back. I ask the Department to intervene in that regard.
On e-scooters, I met with representatives of Ford Ireland and am delighted to hear that Ford, which has more than a century of prestigious history in building quality cars, is now entering the e-scooter market, although with a very different type of e-scooter. Ford will offer e-scooters where there is a subscription service, similar to the e-bikes that operate in towns and cities. You arrive, tap in, take the e-scooter and return it. It is a fantastic idea. Ford is looking to engage with our committee and with the Department.
I will propose something to the Minister. More than a decade ago, the Government decided that County Clare would have Ireland's first e-town. Miltown Malbay was equipped with broadband, Internet and information technology, IT, facilities that are now outdated, obviously. I want the Minister to embrace the whole idea of an e-town once more and I invite him and his Department to look at Ennis as a way of trialling e-scooters. Not everything should go to Ireland's cities. Ennis is the largest non-city town in Munster and would be a great place to trial e-scooters.
On automated vehicles, a fabulous project has been going on in recent years in Shannon, where Jaguar Land Rover has a facility testing automated vehicles. This has been industry-led in Ireland. Once again, it is important the legislation is future-proofed.
I will come in on the other points in a moment, if that is okay. I ask the Minister to respond initially and I will then ask another question.
The Deputy is right that we have to set these regulations in a way that gives flexibility as new devices, such as Segways and hoverboards, and there will be others, come in. We are deliberately calling this powered personal transporters, PPTs, rather than e-scooters legislation because there will be other examples of this form of transport and we have to set the regulations in a way that gives us flexibility in that regard. That will be key.
I am very glad the Deputy is on the Dublinbikes scheme. It is very unfortunate it has had a technical problem with batteries. Any delay in those batteries being replaced may be due to the global supply chain for a variety of products being in severe constraint at the moment. The availability of bicycles is still recovering from the disruption caused by the Covid pandemic. I very much regret that but I am confident that, whenever the global supply chain recovers, we will see those bicycles back in operation and working well.
With regard to County Clare, I agree with the Deputy that a town like Ennis would be a perfect location for testing, promoting and creating a safe space. It will be very much dependent on local councils creating a safe space for the infrastructure. We need that, particularly for safe routes to schools and in the designation of space. To go back to what I said at the very start, many of these PPTs will be in the same safe space occupied by bicycles, such as bike lanes. This a real opportunity for any town, and this will be very good for our towns in improving accessibility without the huge problems of car parking and so on. I might get the Deputy to talk to my colleague, Senator Garvey, who has done a lot of work over the years on the issue of safe schools and travelling in Clare. There is good experience available. Ennis would be a perfect town but it is not the only one. A number of other towns around Clare would be ideal for this form of transport.
I have one or two more points to make in my remaining time. There is a glaring omission from the Bill that should be encapsulated now and it relates to horses. There is not a county in the country where laneways are not closed off at the weekend by trucks, pick-ups and vans as sulky horses are raced down roads. This form of racing is provided for legally but it looks like the law is not tight enough. In looking at the Road Traffic Act, this is an area that needs definite tightening up between now and the autumn. It is an issue of animal cruelty but also one of road safety. It desperately needs to be tightened up, as does enforcement by An Garda Síochána.
Has the Minister any update on the appointment of a chairperson to the Shannon Group board? We are very anxious on this. Is the Minister progressing rapid antigen testing, on a pilot basis, as he and others have said they are keen on doing? Is that progressing? I would appreciate it if the Minister could quickly answer those questions at the end.
There are a number of areas covering the regulation of horses. In my city of Dublin it is an issue that is coming to my attention and people are looking for further regulatory powers to manage it well. To be honest, I do not think we can get it into this legislation. It is a very wide-ranging and extensive Bill now and I am reluctant because of the time pressure and the complexity that would be added. Going back to what I said to the Cathaoirleach at the start, we are ready to go. I do not see us introducing further provisions beyond the ones highlighted here. I would not rule it out as there is always a stream of road legislation coming through. If the Deputy has proposals in that regard I would be very happy to look at them and we would introduce them in further legislation.
On the appointment to the Shannon Group, it is in progress. It is, I understand, well advanced with the Public Appointments Service, PAS, and as soon as I have-----
I do not have a timeframe here this morning but I will try to find that and liaise with the committee to give an update as soon as I have it.
On rapid antigen testing, I have said right through this crisis that it has a role to play. We have been pushing regularly for antigen testing in a variety of areas, including travel. "Yes" is the answer. I expect in a variety of circumstances, including travel, we will be using antigen testing.
When is it happening specifically for air travel? If it is not, when will the Minister have it up and running? We are getting so worried about 19 July and a potential lack of preparedness and being laggards in Europe. Will the Minister tell us what the plan is, specifically for air travel?
Our first requirement in the plan as set out is to introduce the digital Covid certificate. Included in that is vaccination status and whether a person has had the virus previously or a PCR test. That is what will apply from 19 July. That does not rule out us looking at antigen testing. I expect it to have an extensive role.
We must go well beyond thinking about it at this stage. We are looking down the barrel of a gun. All of Europe has jumped already. We are either doing antigen testing or we are not. We have heard too much of looking into it and thinking about it. This is either happening or it is not. If it is happening, I say respectfully that we should spell out a timeframe so that, good or bad, the whole industry knows what is happening in this regard and there is no ambiguity going forward.
We have written to the Minister as our line Minister. We have written to the National Public Health Emergency Team, NPHET, and had it before us. We have done a considerable amount of work on antigen testing. We had Aer Lingus CEO, Ms Lynne Embleton, before us last week. The airline would very much be on board with any form of pilot testing or whatever testing is required with antigen. Does the Minister accept we are an outlier on antigen testing at this moment in time, particularly with respect to air travel? I have no doubt the Minister has read the Ferguson report, which was a Government-commissioned report. Why are we getting such intransigence from NPHET on antigen testing? In his opinion, as Minister with responsibility for transport, why are we getting such kick-back from NPHET on antigen testing, which clearly has a role to play in addition to PCR? Why is this so?
My opinion is we will be using antigen in a whole variety of occupations. It will not be used, to make it clear to Deputy Crowe, from 19 July. That will be PCR testing. That does not rule out the use of antigen testing for both travel and domestic arrangements in the future. To do that in travel, it would have to be tested. We will be working with the airlines and others, including NPHET, to look at suitable approaches so we can start introducing it. Before that happens, I expect it to have more widespread application domestically in a number of different ways. That will also help improve the accuracy or the way in which it is used, which will overcome some of the concerns NPHET has. From the start and from the briefing I got from Professor Ferguson, I thought his argument was that this is a screening tool. It is not in any way foolproof in terms of whether someone has the virus but it shows to a high degree of accuracy whether a person is infectious at a point in time. It has a potential role and I very much support it and welcome Professor Ferguson's report in that regard. I will continue to push with Government for its application in as many appropriate areas as possible.
To conclude on this point, the Minister speaks about other areas. Does he see antigen testing having a role in the context of indoor dining with restaurants? Government made an announcement yesterday. If he is making the statement that he sees it having a role in other areas, what are those other areas? Does it include indoor dining? How quickly will that happen?
The decision we made on Monday night was to give ourselves time to work out the application in this regard of a whole variety of solutions we are going to need to apply. I am not going to set out here what that approach should be. The Tánaiste is talking to the restaurant and hospitality sectors today. We need to do that. We need to do further analysis of the capability in terms of ensuring we deliver on digital Covid certificates. For any further application, be it testing or any system of verification, we must ensure we have the technical capability and can deliver it in a timely manner, so we should not rule out any options. Government deliberately made a decision on Monday night recognising you do not make good decisions in that sort of timeframe. It is better to take our time in the next number of days, work out the options and then come forward with a solution. The most critical thing in this regard, which I think all members appreciate, is that, for the hospitality and tourism sectors especially, we must be quick because the summer is important, especially for the tourism industry, obviously. We must also ensure it is not stop-start and that whatever process we put in place we keep going, even in what is likely to be a difficult situation in August and September when cases will start to rise. Getting that right is not something we do immediately. We must do some work in the coming days to set out the correct approach.
I have a quick question on antigen testing. Has the Minister's Department been in contact with Aer Lingus, Ryanair and the other airlines to set up a pilot antigen testing programme? What has been the response from the airlines?
Going back through the past year I have been in regular contact with Ryanair, Aer Lingus as well as NPHET, the Department of Health and the airports, all of which have an interest in this issue. There have been very collaborative arrangements. For our first PCR system, it was Dublin Airport which stood up to help provide the data centre to back that up. Similarly with Aer Lingus and Ryanair, at critical moments in this crisis, Aer Lingus was flying in personal protective equipment, PPE, at a time we needed it. Ryanair was flying people home at a time when we needed them. Both stood up to help the national effort in a really good way.
Throughout this crisis we have looked at antigen testing, PCR testing and a range of mechanisms in the context of how we regulate aviation. However, I will be upfront in saying the key debates and discussions are with the Department of Health and with our health officials because their agreement is what we would need. I have been in discussions with Aer Lingus and Ryanair but I do not see them as an obstacle. I am aware they are very keen to start testing. The real issue is to get our public health system comfortable and satisfied with how that works. Last summer and right through the autumn, we had discussions with the Department of Health in that regard. We came back to it again at Christmas and officials were looking at it and testing what might be possible.
The Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, has been in regular contact. Within Government, we know what the industry wants. Getting the health system to be competent for what is needed is the key. I was encouraged when Dr. Holohan, when attending this committee, stated that testing would be considered. We will pursue that. In my discussions with the industry, what it wants more than anything else is to follow through on the 19 July approach, including PCR testing as an option if somebody is not vaccinated or has not previously had the disease. That is the key process we now have to deliver on.
We have had all the representatives in before us, including NPHET, and it is baffling that they have obstructed the use of antigen testing. The delays in considering it are unacceptable. I will say no more than that but at some stage, NPHET needs to give a specific reason it has been slow to involve itself with this.
The Minister mentioned the Covid green certificate or travel certificate. That becomes effective across Europe today. Most countries have already embraced it. They are up and running and are using it. We have a date of 17 July. Will the Minister tell me when the certificate will be available for people who are making arrangements to travel? He says the operative date is 17 July. When can people expect to be notified?
I will announce further details next week. The European Union gave countries up to eight weeks from 1 July to introduce a system. We picked 19 July for a variety of reasons but a primary reason was that I do not think any other health system in Europe has been subjected to the same cyberattack as we were, which in effect took out our IT systems for the past five or six weeks since the strike took place. It has taken a Herculean effort to get those systems back. We have them back and I am confident we will have the certificates in time for that launch. The final arrangements are being put in place by the Department of Health and I expect that I will have those final details next week.
I welcome the Minister and his officials. I will continue on the use of antigen testing. I welcome the Minister's view that he can see widespread domestic applications for antigen testing. That would represent a sea change in the Government's approach to antigen testing, which I would welcome. The Minister referred to the meeting we had with NPHET about antigen testing. NPHET agreed with and supported an initiative to open an air corridor that was supported with antigen testing. I encourage the Minister to get involved in that along with NPHET, the Department of Health and the airlines, to make it happen. We depend on air travel as an island nation and antigen testing can make that happen in a safer manner. I encourage the Minister to look at that again and make sure it happens. He should engage with the airlines, NPHET and the Department of Health to establish that pilot as soon as possible. Will the Minister comment on that?
I am slightly nervous because I have commented on that and I hope I have not distracted the committee from its core work, which is pre-legislative scrutiny. Road safety is also a significant issue. With no disrespect to Deputy Carey, I think my previous answers to Deputy Lowry and others encapsulate what I think on that issue. I am nervous about wandering too far from the contents of the Bill.
Fair enough. We will go back to the road traffic issue. Regarding e-scooters, does the Minister envisage that the regulations will follow in tandem with the publication of the Bill? Has he a view on what the age limit will be? What speed limit should be imposed on e-scooters? Where can they be used? Should someone who is using it follow the rules of the road or does the Minister envisage that a different code of practice would be involved for someone using an e-scooter?
On the timing of the Bill, legislation is a slow process, as we all know. If we can get the Bill into the Oireachtas in early or mid-September and get it through both Houses, that process itself ordinarily takes a couple of months. We do not have to rush it. We should use Committee Stage wisely. The timeline we expect is that the President will sign the Bill before the end of the year. The regulations that would bring the Bill into force can often take a number of months. This is such a wide-ranging Bill with so many extensive powers that it will require significant work from officials to put regulations in place. While it will vary depending on the provisions, we expect something to be put in place early next year.
Looking at the international experience of e-scooters, which varies, there is a speed limit of 20 km/h to 25 km/h, and others have regulations about power output and so on. Those are the sort of provisions which seem to me to make sense. You would not catch up with Deputy Ciarán Cannon as he heads from place to place at 27 km/h but those provisions are appropriate. Looking at the international experience, 16 years of age is the limit that many similar countries seem to have. I would be interested in hearing Deputies' views at any stage with the Bill. Those are the timeframes and age limits we are thinking of.
On the use of helmets, the Minister remarked earlier that they would be voluntary. We have heard evidence about horrific injuries which have been recorded involving the use of e-scooters. Would it not make sense to make the use of helmets mandatory?
I have been seen to cycle without a helmet but I increasingly do wear a helmet because I am fearful and want to protect my head, but I do not believe that we should make them mandatory, for a variety of reasons. Deputy O'Rourke raised the matter of Dublinbikes. Those hire bikes are being used increasingly widely. People using them do not wear helmets. We do not want to discourage that development. Countries which have introduced the mandatory use of helmets, including Australia, saw a reduction in the number of people cycling. There is a substantial health loss from that. The health benefits from active travel are beyond compare. You live longer. Even if it does put a person at a risk of falling or being involved in a traffic accident, the health benefits are extensive. Our job is to create safe space and safe conditions on the road for cycling or a range of different new personal mobility systems, such as e-scooters, which are not intrinsically unsafe.
It is the condition of our roads that makes them unsafe. Our focus should be on making roads safer and on encouraging, supporting and incentivising the use of helmets, but not to make them mandatory.
I thank the Minister and his team for attending the meeting. In fairness, they have given a timeline of September in regard to the taking of Second Stage of this legislation. The framework about which Mr. O'Leary spoke as regards the master licence record is absolutely necessary from the point of view of any safety or security checks we consider introducing but we will need to interrogate it when it comes before us. Addressing any anomalies as regards disqualifications is a necessary piece of work.
The Minister has introduced the new acronym, PPTs. In addressing the issue of e-scooters, scramblers and quads, which are a scourge in some areas, we will again need to interrogate best case scenarios internationally to find a fit that works. Some of my colleagues, in particular Deputies Munster and Ellis, and, most recently, Paul Donnelly, have done an enormous amount of work in this area. I imagine there are some solutions in their legislative proposals that can be looked at.
Given the week that is in it and the Minister's presence, I propose to take a liberty and raise an issue related to my constituency, that is, the Narrow Water bridge project in respect of which there have been many false dawns. We welcome the €3 million allocation from the shared island fund to enable it to be brought to tender. Over four or five years ago INTERREG funding of €17.9 million and other moneys provided North and South brought total funding of €29 million to the project, but it was insufficient and the project fell apart. It is important now that there is due diligence in regard to this project. I am interested in hearing from the Minister what communication has taken place with Europe with regard to the possibility of European funding to ensure delivery of this project. We all accept that the connection of south Down with north Louth, in particular the Cooley Peninsula with the Mourne Mountains, will bring enormous tourism and other opportunities. We need to ensure that happens.
I do not want to labour the digital Covid certificate because the Minister has already addressed it somewhat. The Tánaiste has spoken about the possibility of it being altered to facilitate indoor dining into the future. What conversation has happened in that regard? I welcome that there has been a conversation around the possibility of using antigen testing. In regard to aviation, when Dr. Holohan appeared before this committee there was an element of pass the parcel, but he did say that the evidence he needed in regard to the use of antigen testing could only be gleaned from a pilot in the aviation sector and that that could be only put in place by the Minister of Transport, Deputy Ryan, with the Minister for Health, Deputy Stephen Donnelly. We must ensure that we have an operational digital Covid certificate for 19 July and that there will be ease of use in terms of people being able to have information regarding vaccination or testing uploaded.
Without wandering too far from the Bill, I will comment briefly on the Narrow Water bridge. Deputy Ó Murchú will be aware of the announcement yesterday that the project is to go to tender and that it is being shared by the shared island fund. The Taoiseach has a particular interest in this project. I met the Minister for Infrastructure, Nichola Mallon, on Monday. She also has a very keen interest in the project. I understand Louth County Council will have a central role in it. I would not rule out the application of European funding. The European Council recently held a debate on TEN-T connectivity, but I am not certain that this would apply. Increasingly, funding under TEN-T is being focused in other areas.
In terms of the road safety aspect, there is huge potential for development of tourism in the Carlingford Cooley Peninsula and the Mournes in particular, both of which are stunning locations for walking and cycling. How we create safe road conditions in Carlingford for cyclists and walkers will be critical. To be honest, I am nervous about the increasing traffic volumes that sometimes come with new road connectivity. While I understand fully the symbolic and other importance of this project, my intention, on a road safety basis, would be to examine how we can make the Mournes and Carlingford Cooley Peninsula a haven for active travel tourism. This is where I will be focusing the efforts of my Department.
On the other issue, I cannot add to what I said earlier. Let us work together in the coming days to examine all options and create as safe a system as possible.
I welcome the Minister's remarks with regard to Narrow Water bridge. I do not think anyone would disagree with him that there is a need for traffic connectivity, but into the future all design for projects such as this should make provision for safe and secure cyclists and active travel tourism and so on. That should definitely be built into future design. A considerable amount of my concerns in regard to e-scooters, scramblers and so on are being dealt with. We just need to get on with the work in regard to delivering it.
I will make one final point, but I do not expect the Minister to come back in on it. My understanding from a conversation I had with Dr. Holohan was that he was putting the use of antigen testing back into the lap of the Minister, Deputy Ryan, from the point of view of a pilot. I accept that in regard to aviation we are far down the road in relation to when we should have done testing. That said, given the circumstances and current difficulties, antigen testing should be looked at as a means of facilitating the opening of the hospitality sector. It needs to be adequately resourced and audited as a possible solution.
I am conscious of everybody's time so I will speak to pre-legislative scrutiny on the Road Traffic (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2019. I thank the Minister for attending the meeting. This will, probably and hopefully, be our final pre-legislative session on this Bill and the committee can then produce a report based on the evidence of the witnesses with which it has engaged, including Transport Infrastructure Ireland, the National Transport Authority, NTA, and the Road Safety Authority, RSA. We will make suggestions and observations based on the evidence of those witnesses and the Minister's responses today so that we can allow this Bill to proceed to the next Stage as soon as possible.
The Bill is wide-ranging. It covers many areas that needed to be addressed. It brings clarity to a number of areas of road traffic interaction with pedestrians and other road users and public transport, in particular the varied speed limits which I know are being trialled on the M50. I am aware that TII has been talking about that for many years. As somebody who is often caught on the M50 in tailbacks that seem to develop out of nowhere, I can see the real advantage of that. Often there is no apparent reason for a tailback and it is just a cascade effect at junctions. The varied speed limit will address that issue. It will reduce the likelihood of crashes or conflicts because when traffic is moving, drivers tend to be more satisfied than when they have to continually, stop, start and jump lanes. That provision is a welcome addition to the legislation.
The issue of e-bikes was raised and discussed. There are a variety of them being used on our roads. Some of them resemble motorbikes more than battery-operated bicycles.
I saw one the other day and I could not work out whether there was a key to start it or what it was. We need to tighten up on that and give clarity to people on what exactly an e-bike and a propelled vehicle propelled by pedal and battery assistance are.
The regulation on scramblers is needed. Scramblers and quads have no place in public parks or amenities, unless it is for maintenance by authorised people. We have seen terrible accidents happen in public places. It is time to tighten up on that as well as on the ownership and use of such vehicles. I welcome that.
I am interested to see the opportunity for automated vehicle testing. We always think that automated vehicles are something that are way off in the future and we will not see them here, but we have seen the speed of technology in various things throughout Covid. It is only a matter of time before we start seeing them here. I welcome their inclusion in the Bill. It is something we can expand on in the future. It is good to get it into primary legislation so that, when we start to address it, we are ready to move, up to speed and able to address it in a timely fashion.
I am glad the issue of fines has been addressed. I note the third option whereby people will get a prompt and a penalty payment and be told they will be going to court in seven days. It gives people an option to get out of it at that stage, pay a fine and not clog up the courts system. That is of benefit. All in all, I am fairly satisfied with the Bill and range of items it covers. I look forward to the committee compiling our pre-legislative scrutiny report and putting forward our submissions and observations that the Minister may take on board for amendments to the Bill when it is drafted.
On his last point, we did not have a chance to discuss that earlier. He is right. The ability to avoid clogging up the courts is important. People would have to pay double in those circumstances, but that is better than a court hearing. It is also better for the courts. It is a welcome provision in the Bill. I also agree with Deputy Matthews on scramblers, e-bikes and automated vehicle testing. They are all future orientated, in particular bikes and automated vehicles.
I want to make a comment on the M50 in response to what Deputy Matthews said. This is a critical Bill. It is very local in a sense, but the M50 is used by a lot of people every day. I speak as someone who spent three weeks at the oral hearings on the widening of the M50. I had an interest in it at the time as a transport campaigner. Various things stood out. It has been expanded as far as it can go. We cannot add any additional capacity. It is at capacity, even during Covid. It will become increasingly a traffic management issue in terms of how we deal with a road which is clogged and at capacity.
In terms of what the Deputy experienced whereby a traffic jam came out of nowhere, it has some unusual flow and engineering characteristics. There can be a traffic jam 2 or 3 km away from an incident or junction which causes a change to traffic flows. We have to manage the motorway. The speed regulations will help that. Based on my personal experience - others may have different experiences - I find it a difficult road to drive on and navigate because there are many lanes joining and complicated junctions. For people coming from the N7 to the Red Cow interchange, getting into the right lane is not an easy job. It is a nervous experience, and even though I am a fairly experienced driver, I find it challenging. A lot of people do.
We have real safety issues. There have been accidents on the road. Smaller accidents that occur daily can often be expensive in terms of the congestion they create. More than anything else, in terms of safety, the variable speed system will give us the ability, if there is an accident, to slow everything down straight away and help to avoid further accidents. If we have to close a lane, it will give us lane management capability.
The TII control centre, which is run on a full-time 24-7 basis, provides advanced monitoring of what is happening on the road. I happened to be there when a car broke down on the fast lane, as it were. I said, "God Almighty, that is a dangerous situation." Cars were going by at 100 km/h. I wondered whether the person could get out and how we would get to the car and so on. The variable speed capability would allow us to manage that system safely. The control centre would watch the road morning, noon and night. It would be able to determine there was a problem, slow everything down and instruct on the use of a lane. One of the most significant elements of the Bill is that it gives us the capability to manage the M50.
There may well be other instances around the country where we need to do the same. TII is ready to go. It will start with a trial period before the Bill is enacted. This is important because many people probably share what I experienced. It is a difficult road to drive, even at the best of times. I am sorry for the long contribution but it is an important issue.
The Minister does not think they require insurance. What is happening regarding bicycles is a positive development, in particular in Dublin. I am amazed, in one sense, that there are not more accidents between cyclists and cars. At this time, is there a need for the Department of Transport to examine the interaction of cars and bikes in terms of the safety of both? I often get a taxi in order that I can make a train on time, and I am amazed there are not more accidents given there are such high volumes of cars and bikes on public highways. Will the Minister comment on that? Am I off beam? Is what I am saying inaccurate? What is the view of the Minister? I decided that, when the Bill was being discussed, I would bring up that broad point with the Minister.
I attended the oral hearing on the widening of the M50 because I was interested in transport campaigning before I got involved in politics. In the past 30 or 40 years we have seen a significant improvement in road safety, as I said earlier. Much of that is down to legislative provisions on drink-driving, safety belts, airbags and a range of different measures which have helped us to reduce the terrible carnage that used to occur on our roads. In some ways, we in the political system can take credit for that.
There is another truth when it comes to road safety. One of the changes that has occurred in the past 40 or 50 years is that there has been a significant reduction in the number of young people walking and cycling to school, in particular, as well as in everyday life. That has had a very deleterious effect on their health as well as on the ability of parents to allow children to go outside and not have to drive them everywhere. In truth, much of the reduction in road fatalities is because we have taken people away from the roads. There has been a significant increase in car traffic volumes. It is safer in terms of accidents per kilometre and so on, but we have created an environment that is inherently unsafe for young people and pedestrians and cyclists, in particular. That needs to change.
This can be the situation in rural and urban areas. Country roads can be very difficult to walk on and some towns may not have the same resources as others. Therefore, this is an issue for the whole country.
Our next step forward in road safety must be in trying to change the basic characteristics of the transport system. I refer to a modal shift and a reduction in travel overall. We cannot continue to increase the amount of travelling undertaken all the time. More than anything else, though, we must create a safe space. It is especially important we do so for our younger people and enable them to walk around their areas, get to know their own neighbours and be able to visit their friends. I met representatives of the RSA last week and the point I made was that what is important is the necessity for wider change in the whole transport system to make it safer, in addition to the provisions being made here.
Is there a formalised rule book for cyclists? There is one for car drivers. I accept the point made by the Minister. However, this area must also be looked at from my perspective. I see the situation unfolding weekly in this regard. Is there a Rules of the Road for people who cycle? Are formalised rules set down in legislation in this regard by the Department? I should know this, but I do not. I think I am like many others. Does such a thing exist?
I am sorry, but I have a specific question. Mr. O'Leary obviously cannot hear me, though. My simple question concerns whether this proposed legislation covers the possibility of setting up rental schemes. My impression is that it does not do so. Am I correct in thinking that?
Mr. Ray O'Leary:
Regarding the rental schemes in the other modes, there is no specific legislative framework. However, if additional legislation is needed for bicycles, cars or for sharing personal transporters, that is something which can be examined in the context of wider transport legislation. However, it is not really a matter for road traffic law. It is more to do with facilitation in this regard by the relevant local authorities or the National Transport Authority.
I thank Mr. O'Leary. Returning to the Minister, the issue of scrambler motorbikes is a major concern in Limerick and everywhere else. What is the law regarding scramblers currently? What age do people have to be to operate them? Must they be registered? Is insurance required? This matter is raised repeatedly by the people on the ground who are affected by these scramblers in various areas. These motorbikes cause a great deal of distress to people. I welcome that this issue is being dealt with in the legislation, but what is the law now?
Mr. Ray O'Leary:
As one of the earlier speakers said, many of what are called scramblers are just illegal motorbikes being used for scrambling purposes. They are regulated in the same way as any other motorbike when they are on the road in a public place and subject to the road traffic law. As was also pointed out earlier, this legislation will bring in a kind of parallel system mechanism under which these scramblers can be regulated when they are in spaces not traditionally covered by road traffic law. The legislation also increases the capacity of the Garda to follow up after events involving these scramblers.
A subset of vehicles exists in which the machines concerned are not considered as mechanically propelled vehicles, MPVs, because they do not meet the standards that MPVs are required to have to be used on the public road. We could call these the pure sports scrambler motorbikes. Some of those vehicles are also abused, but the point here is that those machines will still be subject to the same enforcement tools. Those motorbikes can be legitimately used, such as by people who participate in motocross and who do scrambling perfectly legitimately in that context, as well as being abused. It is almost a parallel sphere of operation. Those vehicles, however, regardless of whether they are subject to road traffic law as mechanically propelled vehicles on the road, will be subject to this legislation. Any form of vehicle, mechanically propelled or otherwise, being abused in these circumstances will be subject to these enforcement tools.
In addition, a group chaired by a representative from the Department of Justice is examining the wider mechanism of registration. That is because scrambler motorbikes being used as sports vehicles are not required to be registered now, in the same way as other sports equipment is not required to be registered. The owners of vehicles are registered in our vehicle database because their vehicles are used on the road. This situation goes back to 1921 when legislation regarding vehicles was first introduced. Scrambler motorbikes used for sports purposes are not road vehicles but sports equipment, albeit very powerful sports equipment. Therefore, the question arises as to how they will be regulated.
The current vehicle registration system is linked to the payment of vehicle registration tax, VRT. In turn, that is linked across to the type of approvals for road vehicles set at European Union level. It is the case, then, that these scrambler motorbikes are powerful sports equipment and not road vehicles. Therefore, they are not suitable for registration as road vehicles because they are not covered by VRT and there is now a need to look at a parallel system of registration which would cover these kinds of sports vehicles. The system will need to discourage the abuse of these vehicles while not discouraging their legitimate use for sporting purposes. A balance must be struck in this regard, therefore.
I have two general questions for the Minister. The updated review process for infrastructure projects, the national investment framework for transport in Ireland, NIFTI, went out for public consultation. I think that consultation concluded at the end of May. When is it anticipated the results of that public consultation will be published and the proposed new process will be brought before the Cabinet for approval?
Mr. Ray O'Leary:
We will need to confirm this but my understanding is we hope to finish the consultation in the coming weeks. We would then hope to bring this matter to the Cabinet for approval before the summer break or, if that is not possible, immediately afterwards. We are trying to ensure the timing in this regard is brought forward appropriately, in tandem with the review of the national development plan, NDP. I refer to feedback in respect of the timings of those two processes.
I thank Mr. O'Leary for his response.
I want to conclude on one point. As a committee, we want to be as constructive as possible. We know of the talks yesterday about the announcement and we know the Minister will take advice from public health. In regard to indoor dining, for example, everyone agrees with the process of having people vaccinated and it is by far the best preventative measure. However, there may be situations where people, through no fault of their own, will not be able to be vaccinated and, for example, there may be family gatherings where there are teenagers or others who are not fully vaccinated. In the context of what is being put forward by Professor Ferguson and his review group, and the Minister referred to the screening aspect, between now and 19 July, will the Government put something in train that would look at antigen as a screening tool for the people who are not vaccinated and that would see it used an addition to vaccination and PCR, although it would not replace them? The Minister might comment on that final point.
I will take that away from the committee and share it with Government colleagues but without committing. As I said, we deliberately did not decide on specifics and decided instead to give time for that, and that can be part of the consideration in the coming days. I will take that away. I very much appreciate the questioning and commentary on the legislation, and I hope we can progress it as quickly as possible through the pre-legislative and legislative process.
Thank you. We will do what we can, as a committee. With regard to aviation, as the Minister said earlier, the airlines are very supportive. Although he may be reluctant to comment, I am duty-bound to ask the question. What reservations does NPHET have about antigen testing? The Minister spoke about giving an assurance to NPHET on antigen testing. What are the assurances it is looking for from the Government so that it will allow antigen testing to form part of the toolbox in terms of public health? What are those assurances?
I thank the Minister for a very comprehensive opening statement. I do not think I ever got a 37-page briefing before from a Minister for an opening statement so I thank him for that. All of the information on road safety is very welcome. I am around long enough to remember when Seamus Brennan introduced the start of penalty points with just three offences, and there was huge reluctance at the time by the Department and by people asking, “Are you sure, Minister?”, and all that kind of thing. That massively reduced the number of road deaths, although every road death is one too many. I welcome all the measures on road safety in the Bill, particularly the really basic stuff that we would have thought had been done before. For example, ensuring points automatically go on the driving licence, linking cars to driving licences and the measures on the Motor Insurers’ Bureau of Ireland and uninsured drivers are all very welcome.
There are a couple of points that have not been touched on by other contributors. One is a concept that applies in other countries. I understand there is a project on the M7-M8 in regard to average speed, so the system knows if a driver is clocked at the Red Cow at 2:30 p.m. and is at the Jack Lynch tunnel within a certain time. I know people can beat the system if they want by stopping somewhere along the way. However, if there were decent gaps along the way, it would mean it is not necessarily just a camera here or there and that, over a reasonable distance, people would be clocked and, if they are going too fast, it would be picked up. Is there any progress on that kind of project?
The Senator is right that it was those sorts of political decisions by those like the former Minister, Seamus Brennan, God rest his soul, and others that have seen such huge progress. There is provision in law for average speeds, as the Senator said, and it applies in the port tunnel. My understanding is the Road Safety Authority is keen and we will be looking at further applications of that to improve behaviour and get speeds working properly. There is a wider review of speed limits and a range of different ways we need to consider as part of a revolution in our road safety process, including speed limits in suburban and urban areas, such as the rolling out of the 30 km/h speed limit system and how we manage that. There are a variety of different innovations coming and technology will help us in that, including the use of cameras for the average speed limit. That exists within law and it is just a matter of us rolling it out and funding the cameras and other technology to back it up.
There is value in that. There is also value in the use of cameras and technology more generally and to a greater degree than is currently the case. Technology is moving very fast. For example, in my area, which the Minister knows well, in suburban estates and on roads we have for years been building ramps which damage the fabric of cars and slow people down. If we had technology within people's cars so they enter an estate or a particular area and some kind of technology system forces the car to slow down to that 30 km/h limit, we could save an awful lot of money on people having to get their lights reset before going to the NCT and save on maintaining these awful ramps all over the place. Equally, those who are not speeding would not be punished. Sooner rather than later, I would like to see investigation of how much we can have telemetry in cars which means that, as a driver enters a town or village, the car is brought to a slower speed with technology, although it should not be a knee-jerk reaction. I know not every car is the same age and it would take a while to do, but I would like to see those kinds of systems in place. People generally react well when they know they are being watched and I think it would make a lot of sense. There could be more cameras in place and the local authorities, or whoever would make the money out of it, could stop spending money on ramps, start collecting a few fines from those who were not complying, and let everybody else get on with their existence.
With regard to M50 demand management, there have been many Ministers for Transport who have been from Dublin, not just the Minister, Deputy Ryan, and Seamus Brennan, but also Shane Ross and the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar. When Deputy Varadkar was Minister, the reference to demand management on the M50 was more about multiple tolling. Will the Minister confirm that demand management in this context is much more about speed, signage and so on, and not multiple tolling? I know that at one stage, before TII, the National Roads Authority, NRA, was suggesting that if drivers got on at Sandyford and got off at Cherrywood, they would have to pay €10, but if they got on at the airport and got off at Cherrywood, they would not be charged because the NRA did not want that first kind of traffic on the roads. The difficulty is that if those people are taken off the M50, they are rat-running through residential roads in Foxrock, Sandyford and such areas. The Minister might confirm there is no proposal in this legislation for road pricing within the demand management context of what is being referred to.
No, there is not. There will be a lot of management of traffic in our urban areas. BusConnects projects will, by their nature, restrict car traffic capacity somewhat on each route and corridor, and that will have an effect on Dublin in particular. As I said, the M50 and the approaches to it are at full capacity, and that traffic coming into the city will be constrained because of the Bus Connects routes within the M50 as they evolve and develop. The same will apply in other cities and we have to make sure Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick get the same high-quality infrastructure we are going to put into Dublin. In those circumstances, that, rather than road pricing systems, is going to be the most significant road management system in the coming years.
There are no plans to introduce new road pricing systems. It could be done for some and an argument could be made for a variety of cases, but it is not our approach for the immediate future.
I appreciate that. Both the Minister and I cycle, and more and more often I see people run red lights. It is not just orange lights but red ones too, where the lights for the other traffic have turned green and they still come through. Clearly, that is a problem if they hit a car. It will be a bigger problem if they hit a cyclist. Are there any proposals for cameras to monitor this? Whatever about running orange lights, which is bad enough, people blatantly run red lights after the lights for the other side of the junction have gone green. I saw it twice on the way in on my bike today, and I see it all the time at certain junctions, some of which the Minister would use cycling to and from Leinster House. Are there any proposals to tackle that? I accept the Chairman wanting to know that cyclists are behaving well, but a car can do an awful lot more damage if it is not behaving than a bicycle will ever do, and that is not for a moment to excuse cyclists-----
I fully accept the Chairman's point, but I am just saying that while none of us could support a cyclist or pedestrian doing something wrong, if a car does it, the outcome will be much more dangerous and impactful. Are there proposals to tackle the issue of people running red lights, such as by using telemetry cameras and so on?
Clearly, we should obey the rules of the road. There is much ongoing work on the use of cameras. The issue is complex because of data protection, and the Data Protection Commissioner will have a key role. We have seen with the use of CCTV cameras for the likes of litter pollution that it is difficult to enforce the regulations. As the Data Protection Commissioner has rightly noted, we want to avoid a sense of there being excessive surveillance of citizens. We should be free in that sense. Nevertheless, there are potential applications, particularly in the management of junctions, traffic lights and so on. I would not rule out their use, but it will have to satisfy the commissioner that it is not in breach of people's fundamental civil rights. It will not be resolved in this legislation but it is a key ongoing issue.
I accept what the Minister is saying. Dare I say it, it is the kind of response at which people kind of throw their hands in the air. I sat on a local authority where, in the context of littering, people were talking about naming and shaming. People react to such measures. In the same way that Revenue publishes a list of tax defaulters, which is a deterrent for people to default on their taxes, the vast majority of the public would accept the use of cameras if people are blatantly breaking red lights and are a danger to everybody, including themselves. This is the kind of area where data protection and the general data protection regulation, GDPR, get a bad name. We should ensure whatever laws need to be in place for safeguarding are there, but the GDPR alone should not be a barrier to doing something. It is in everybody's interest that people do not go around crashing into one another and breaking lights consistently, whether pedestrian lights, in particular, or any set of lights.
The National Car Testing Service, NCTS, system, comes under the remit of the Minister's Department. I am not due a test until October but I can do it early from July. The dates I am being offered, however, are by and large in September. A person might, if lucky, have a look at 2 o'clock in the morning and find a vacancy that has arisen in July, but there seems to be a backlog in respect of the NCTS. Is the Minister familiar with what the volume of backlog is? Are measures in place to try to reduce the backlog? Road safety is important in the context of cars too.
Mr. Ray O'Leary:
We have not been made aware of general nationwide backlogs. There tend to be challenges at certain times of the year, given that with the move towards twice yearly registration plates, there tend to be surges in the number of registrations in January and July. Moreover, with Covid precautions, while the NCT service is generally operating and has operated well within the system, it has been subject to some constraints on throughput and managing people coming and going. There may be some local issues, therefore, in individual parts of the country but we are not aware of a general issue of significant backlogs at NCT centres. There tends to be a challenge in July because many cars' registration dates are in that month. If a person tries to get in early in July, he or she may be knocked back because so many people will have booked for June and July. It is a combination of the seasonal surge and perhaps some local bottlenecks. We can follow it up with the Road Safety Authority, which, through Applus+, is responsible for the service and has the contract for its operation. We can find out more information and revert to the Senator.
Much of what I had intended to ask about e-scooters has been covered. I accept the point that rental schemes for scooters, no more than car rental schemes, are not legislated for in road legislation, but there is an issue with scooter management. Thousands of scooters have appeared on footpaths. Will there be any legislation or is it up to the local authority to do that on its own through by-laws? I refer also to questions of where the scooters can be housed and parked. Has any thought gone into that? Clearly, they are popular and are becoming more so. With bike schemes such as Bleeperbike, people can now lock the bikes to various things and leave them in various places, unlike Dublinbikes. Has any thought gone into setting up a regulatory regime for how to manage scooters? It is clear they will be more popular in future.
Existing by-laws, for bicycles and other vehicles, will be able to be applied to regulate scooters. The bike hire schemes, in many cases, are contracted through the councils and the contract conditions may allow for regulation. There will be further regulatory systems as the schemes develop and evolve. One issue relates to the lifespan of the devices. We are increasingly moving to a circular economy system and we do not want short-lived devices, especially ones with batteries. There is a strong focus now within the European Union on batteries and long-life devices that use them. The experience in some countries is that the lifespan of some e-scooters can be very short, and the waste management issues in that context are significant. I think there will be very positive developments as we create a range of new personal mobility devices, but we need to ensure they are used in the right place, governed by good by-laws, recycled properly and are long lasting and safe. We are dealing with the safety part in this legislation but the other regulations will come in separate forms, through local authority by-laws, contract arrangements and other legislation on recycling and waste management.
I thank the Senator. I want to clarify one point. As a committee, we wrote to the Minister on a number of occasions about developing a pilot scheme for antigen testing for airlines. Is he supportive of a pilot antigen testing programme being set up? We are seeking the use of antigen not as a replacement for PCR testing but rather because it will bring a little added value for flights, where PCR may not detect the Covid virus before passengers board a plane. Antigen will detect the virus when the person is most infectious. Equally, it could be used for indoor dining.
The Minister has received our correspondence. Is he supportive of a pilot test being set up for antigen testing for an air route?
I thank the Minister for his engagement with the committee and his availability. It is welcome that a Minister would come in and discuss matters. I support the Minister about the master licence record as mentioned in his opening remarks about the Bill. I have a question about the certificate for medical fitness to drive. I know the Minister cannot make a decision today. Will Government look at the cost to people, especially to a certain age group? Many elderly citizens find it prohibitive to be asked to pay to go to a general practitioner to prove their medical fitness. Will the Minister look at that?
We had a good exchange about speed variances. I raised the speed variances on the M50. As somebody who frequents the Cork-Dublin motorway, I am concerned it is now populated with gardaí. Everywhere you go, there is a Garda speed checkpoint or van on the motorway. In general, by doing that, we are taking gardaí away from other accident blackspots that are far more dangerous than the Cork-Dublin motorway.
I know the Minister smiled and diplomatically kicked for touch regarding aviation, and rightly so, in fairness to him. Our committee has done significant work on antigen testing. I hope the Government will support our committee in that. Stobart Air is leaving us today. I have an appeal for the Minister on behalf of the workers in the aviation sector, especially in Aer Lingus and Ryanair. The Aer Lingus bases in Cork and Shannon should be restored as a matter of urgency, and I ask the Minister and Government to support us with that.
This is good legislation. As the Minister said, it needs to be brought in quickly and I support him in that.
The matter of medical fitness to drive is an element of the Bill which has not got attention and it is important. Our existing regulations pre-date our entry to the EU. This is an important modernisation. We are expecting to increase the age at which a medical certificate is required, from 70 to 75 years, which will affect many people, and it is hoped that is positive.
I was distracted when answering about Stobart Air. Our first thoughts are with the workers of the company. In one way, we hope the restoration of the public service obligation for the Donegal and Kerry route may provide employment opportunities to bring some of those jobs back for those who may have lost them. I understand that process is in train and there will be a successful outcome in time for that 19 July deadline. We have a tight timeframe. I expect we will be able to meet and deliver it and, we hope, get some of those people back to work in a timely manner.
On the matter of people with autism or other disabilities who cannot wear a face covering on public transport, there seems to be a discrepancy. I ask the Minister to intervene with Irish Rail and bus providers to ensure people who have disabilities who cannot wear face coverings are not precluded or victimised when travelling. I have met with people who cannot use face coverings because of disability. They feel they have experienced significant hassle and difficulty from public transport providers. Will the Minister intervene, please? I would be happy to provide the information later.
If the Senator could. Our response to Covid has worked because it has been collective. I would be concerned if someone was not availing of the ability which exists in regulations to provide exemptions for people with specific disabilities. If the Senator can send me those details, I will pass them on to the relevant authorities.
I support what the Chair said about antigen testing. I welcome what the Minister said about further information that may be in the digital Covid certificate and that it will be delivered with regard to aviation. I thank the Minister for his time and leeway. I apologise for any leeway I may have sought. It is always easier to apologise afterwards.
To back up what Deputy O'Rourke said earlier, if someone in the Minister's Department was able to chase up the theory test, there is a strange scenario where people are still talking about cancellations occurring. We understood there was a time when the theory tests were not happening. It is disappointing and disconcerting and it is having a logistical impact on a significant number of people. Can that be dealt with?
Does the Minister have any updates of where the National Cyber Security Centre, NCSC, review is? I recognise that the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, takes the lead on this. Is the Minister aware of where it is? Are there any other consequences from the ransomware attack with regard to us carrying out due diligence?
It is a political system. We have the NCSC review and will act on it quickly. It is comprehensive, informative and useful. I expect to be able to act on it quickly. There are confidentiality issues with some of it but we have it now and are starting to act on it. I will similarly pass on the issue of the theory test and cancellations when talking to the Department.
Regarding BusConnects, there has been significant hoo-ha and scaremongering. Those of us who remember the Donnybrook area before the quality bus corridor was implemented in 1999 would never do anything other than leave it as it is. We certainly would not go back to the way it was before it was introduced. What does this legislation do to provide for BusConnects?
I agree with the Senator. I was involved in the opening of that bus corridor back in the day. It transformed public transport at a relatively low cost and with significant benefit to the people of Dublin. I think BusConnects will be the same. The legislation contains largely technical provisions. The NTA had some concerns about the definitions of carriageway and how it could get flexibility for putting in alternative parking or other arrangements. This is largely technical, to give it the powers to be flexible in how it integrates with existing development plans and to allow it to go to An Bord Pleanála with legal certainty about a variety of issues which will help with planning permission. We have to get our BusConnects project into the planning system and this legislation will help that.
I thank the Minister and Chairman. This is good legislation and I welcome it, especially with regard to e-scramblers, e-bikes and e-scooters. Active travel must be promoted at all opportunities. I thank the Minister.
This has been a good session addressing a myriad matters. The core of it has been the general scheme of the road traffic Bill. We will look to expedite our report on the pre-legislative scrutiny. We want to assist the Minister in passing it as quickly as possible. I expect we will have a pre-legislative scrutiny report relatively quickly and we will support the Minister with that. We thank him for allowing us to cover many other areas. He will appreciate that with the timing of the announcement yesterday and the work we have done on aviation, we welcome his commitment to support a pilot of antigen testing. We would like to see it happen quickly, in parallel with the digital green certificate.
We have put that aspect forward strongly. It shows that antigen testing is not something NPHET should be afraid of. If it is a method which can reduce the risk from the spread of the virus, then it is an approach we must embrace. Leaving NPHET to one side, would it be fair to say antigen testing forms part of the Government’s policy now? Would that be a reasonable comment to make?
No. I thank the Chair and the members of the committee. My officials here have been very supportive as well. This is major legislation and our officials have put a huge amount of work into it. I thank them again for all their efforts.