Wednesday, 4 October 2006
Road Traffic and Transport Bill 2006 [Seanad]: Second Stage
Eamon Ryan (Dublin South, Green Party)
I believe the Minister will receive support from across the House to get this short Bill through as quickly as possible. My party is in full agreement with the provisions outlined. We understand the need for them. It is regrettable but understandable how such mistakes can be made. I do not think anyone here is beyond reproach in this regard. We have made similar mistakes ourselves in the past. It is not worth our time dwelling on the reasons some of those mistakes were made, other than to state that in this area the question of resources available to the Department is a serious issue. Colleagues have previously made this point.
I do not speak in terms of this legislative area alone. We have a new Department of Transport and we find it is an area that is increasingly in the news and is the source of contentious debate around transport issues. In the past three or four years, we have gone from one fire fighting issue to another, be it the airports, bus regulation, the building of public transport or overruns in road programmes. In a constructive manner, I would question whether there are sufficient resources within the Department or whether it is structured in a way to give it those resources to cover all of these bases and operate in a strategic and forensic manner instead of running from one crisis to another. In those circumstances, it is more likely that typographical or legislative errors will be made.
A question must be asked about the scope, resources and ability of the Department to fully cover the wide transport brief with which it is charged. Any new Government should consider strengthening the Department by, for example, moving the roads function of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the Department of Transport, where it would have a natural home. This would give a transport Department the resources to legislate and have joined-up thinking in its area; this is something which my party will certainly consider.
I do not have any problem with the provisions or changes to be made. I welcome a new addition that has not been made on the basis of a typographical error or mistake in the original Bill, namely, the use of nurses to take blood samples in Garda stations. Our nursing profession is not sufficiently recognised for the skills and expertise of its members. It is appropriate that nurses are able to administer some of the medical procedures they would not have been allowed to do previously. The Acting Chairman might excuse my view, as no offence to the good doctors of this country is meant, but there is no reason such procedures should not be taken over by the nursing profession.
I also welcome an apparent trend in the past two months. While it is difficult to speak of trends when examining a mere two months' figures, the coincidence of the introduction of mandatory breath testing with the reduction in the number of collisions, which I suppose is the most accurate measure, and fatalities is welcome. We should go further with this. The political will exists across the House and the country for Deputies to effectively address the tragedy that is the number of deaths, injuries and losses on our roads. As has been said, this would not only require legislative changes, but would also stiffen our resolve to go further.
Three "E"s are involved in the examination of what needs to be done in terms of road safety. Enforcement and education are of crucial importance, but I would turn to the "E" in respect of which we are not seeing action or sufficient priority being given, namely, engineering. The foremost task or role of the traffic department of each local authority, the Railway Procurement Agency and other transport delivering bodies is to design safe facilities that will further reduce fatalities. The only correct approach is to have no tolerance, not only for drink driving, but also for road conditions that allow or tend to lead to road accidents occurring. I would like to see the resources of the State being invested in the crucial area of road design and engineering, down to every junction. One must start from a local level and work out.
If one walks outside the front gates of this building onto Kildare Street, one is faced with a typical example of what exists in every corner of the country. How can one cross from Buswells Hotel to Leinster House in a road-safe way? It is impossible. One is effectively forced to jay walk, as there is no pedestrian crossing or right of way. One need go no further than the front door of this building to see the problems that exist. This type of lack of planning and attention to detail in road traffic management typifies what spreads from Leinster House to the rest of the country.
While I support the introduction of mandatory breath testing, for which my party has called for a long time, any consequent reduction in the number of accidents is an impetus to further action and endeavour. My party will support the Bill. We hope the Minister will provide a consolidated road traffic Bill before the next election. This matter should be at the top of the legislative agenda of all parties in the House because it is a matter in which any legislation enacted will be picked apart by lawyers. The legislation must be clearly understood, but for that to happen we will need a consolidated Bill. It should be on the agenda of whoever is in office after the next election.