Wednesday, 25 April 2018
Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017: Report Stage (Resumed)
I will try to pick up on the road I was travelling last night, because if the Minister, Deputy Ross, gets his way there will be no one travelling any roads, especially in rural Ireland. It will only be the thieves and the vagabonds. They can do what they like. There is no one to stop them or catch them. That is what we are forcing.
When I was sitting here during discussion of the last Bill an email came into me regarding L-plates. It is from a Geraldine O'Connor. It states "Hi Mattie I heard on the news this evening about the L plate drivers [it] mentioned unaccompanied minors". She was referring to the situation we will be in, whereby cars will be seized and learner drivers' parents will be prosecuted. That part was not in the email, I am adding it. She went on to make the point, "I'm ... not a minor maybe you could bring that up in the Dáil, thank you". There are many people who, although they are on the roads and have never caused accidents, have failed the tests umpteen times for a plethora of reasons. Are they just going to be cast aside and abandoned in their houses? Will they be told to stay inside and not to go anywhere? Are they just to wilt away and die? There are many such people. I would know at least a dozen of them. I am sure every Deputy here, if they were honest and fair, would say that they know some as well. These people have failed umpteen times.
I have also had contact with people - not that many but a sizable few - who have failed the theory test. One particular gentleman has issues with literacy. Many of us would also have such issues. That test is not friendly to those who have issues with literacy or numeracy. One friend of mine only failed by one point out of 27 the first time he did the test. I am not sure of the correct figures. Every time he has done it since, he has done worse. It is just a phobia and a fear of the office space and the computer. He is not computer literate. Other people might be colour-blind. The Minister, Deputy Ross, himself chose to tell the nation that he was colour-blind through Matt Cooper or somebody after he made his faux pason the voting here. He may well be. I am just saying there are issues like that. We are forgetting and abandoning all of those people. Then we bring in legislation here to deal with mental health issues. We are causing mental distress and mental trauma. What evaluation, sensitivity or rural-proofing - or urban-proofing for that matter - have the Minister and his officials in the Road Safety Authority, RSA, carried out on this? None.
I addressed the failures in Tipperary, the delays in getting driving tests and the wait of six months at some length last night. After waiting, someone might arrive for a test and not be allowed to do it for the flimsiest of reasons. I know of only two cases of this but I am sure there are others. Of the two I know of, one reason given was fog and the other was frost. The tester decided that the candidate could not be brought out after the person and the accompanying driver had driven 26 or 30 miles to turn up at the testing centre at the due point in time. These two people then had no test. Such people are then not allowed to reapply for a month. They are disbarred from reapplying for a month if they fail a test or if the test does not take place. They then have to wait the six months again. I quoted the figures to the Minister last night. They are savage figures which come from his own Department. These figures do not include people who have received test dates.
On another issue I might raise in defence of the RSA and the test centres, I totally do not condone the quite large number of people having tests scheduled and then not turning up for them without informing the test centre. They are taking spaces other people could have used. That is an unfortunate practice and it should not be allowed. There should be some punishment for it. Any of us in business know that one cannot run a business that way. There are people who choose, for whatever reason, not to turn up, without a sick note and without notifying the centre. It is okay if something happens on the morning of the test, if one has an accident or if something happens that stops one getting to the centre, but if people know that they are not going to turn up they should inform the testers.
I want to ask the Minister a question and I hope he will not just stand up, nod, look up into the Gallery and deny us any kind of reasonable discourse or debate. In 2016 he told us that there was a backlog due to a lot of retirements. He recruited 23 new testers. Only 12 or so of them have been activated or put on the roads. Surely it does not take from 2016 to 2018 for them to be trained to drive. Have they licences themselves? Are they also learner drivers? Are they doing lessons and getting theory tests? What could be the delay? If they qualified to get the job, how it could it take them so long to be put in a position to carry out tests?
There are many areas there. Is the Minister thinking about the aforementioned Geraldine O'Connor who wrote to me? Is he thinking about the likely impact these measures will have on her? She has insurance and she is on the road. She is a learner driver, she is not accompanied by her mother. Her mother and father are probably long since deceased, God rest them. I think she is a middle aged woman or older. She is not a minor but she is being treated as one. What a put-down this is for an ordinary person who wants to go about her business, whether that is to go to church, mass or meeting, to work or to the shops. She is being treated as a minor. That is an unintended consequence of the Bill. However, those in the RSA and the Department are not too interested in dealing with unintended consequences. They are dealing with the heavy hand of the law.
As I said last night, any legislation must have the broad acceptance of the general populace for the Garda Síochána and so on to police it. As I said, I am a big supporter of An Garda Síochána, community alert and people supporting one another. Any police force anywhere in the world cannot police without the support of the public. That has been proven since time immemorial. However, it is different when one starts churning out legislation such as this that is anti-rural and anti na daoine óga. Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí. If the Minister does not understand that, it means praise the young and they will come along and prosper. They should not be put down, threatened and denied any hope of getting anywhere other than by a taxi or a bus that is not available because there are no services. The Government is taking away the train services and everything else.
I brought the Minister on a tour of part of Tipperary one night and showed him the impact the first part of this legislation would have, but to no avail. He decided over Christmas, on whatever journey he was on, to bring in, as I said, additional legislation on this, including provisions concerning L-plate drivers and cyclists. The latter are outside in force tonight; I saw them out there on the road. We do not condone any accident or incident in which a cyclist is injured or hurt, worst of all fatally, but it is nonsense to try to have a 1.5 m distance on most of the roads used by most of us, including Deputies Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Collins and me. There are a few such roads out the Minister's way. I have travelled, with his hospitality, to his house once or twice and the roads were quite narrow and busy. I cannot see how he can invoke such a rule. What is the point in passing legislation that we do not have a hope in hell, not the flimsiest chance, of implementing? How will it be enacted?
If the distance is 1.5 m and the cyclist wobbles and comes out to within 1.3 m, is one then in breach of the law? It is utter contemptible nonsense, as far as I am concerned. It is not even fine in the cities because I see roads in the cities, whether I am in a taxi or bus lane or whatever, on which it is not possible to keep that distance away either. Something has gone badly wrong in the drafting, design or research offices of the Minister's Department, whether it be the RSA, the Department itself or whoever else is coming up with these harebrained schemes that are unworkable, unimplementable and will not have the goodwill of the vast majority of road users. We have problems with cyclists. The proposal is for 1.3 m. In another two months' time, when the April showers are finished and we get the heat and the sun and growth, we will have briars and bushes hanging out 1.3 m into the road. This will mean a cyclist will have to go out another few feet into the road. He will be out at the white line - if there is a white line. Most roads where I come from do not have white lines because they are only narrow tertiary or secondary roads.
This is the greatest nonsense I have ever seen. As I said, the Minister wrote for a newspaper for 13 years or so. I do not know how many years but I read him for many years and admired him. People said, "What a man he is". They said he was inspirational, that it was a pity he would not go into government and that he knew how to fix all these problems. Now will his legacy be these two items of unworkable, unimplementable, unnecessary, cruel and harsh legislation? What a legacy to leave of his time in government when there are dozens of areas across the whole transport network, from the ass and cart right to the planes leaving and landing in Dublin Airport, that he could be dealing with, and then there are buses. I brought people up to meet the Minister about bringing in electric buses. He will probably deny this as well. They were able to introduce electric buses in Germany. There is a company in Tipperary that erects some of the harnesses to drive these buses. They were seeing whether we could get rid of the pollution and have a cleaner economy. That was a wasteful exercise on my part.
The Minister's Department has a huge vendetta against machinery and tractors. As I have pointed out before to him, the Department was in negotiations on a statutory instrument that he wanted to introduce to put tractors of certain sizes and speeds through a test - not an NCT but a commercial vehicle roadworthiness test, CVRT. The Department has shown a lack of respect for the farming organisations, such as the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, the Irish Creamery Milk Supplier Association, ICMSA, the Association of Farm & Forestry Contractors in Ireland, FCI, and a plethora of other organisations in negotiations as to how we might work together. Ní neart go cur le chéile. Together we work and achieve. The next thing they were summoned to a second meeting in Kildare. I remember ringing the Minister the same evening. I was in Roscommon. It was the October bank holiday. When it came to the second meeting for a consultation, they were handed a document: done deal, statutory instrument signed. When I phoned the Minister, he told me he had signed it. That is the utter contempt in his Department. I am not blaming the Minister for this. In fairness to him, when he found out that day what had happened, he withdrew the statutory instrument, to his eternal credit. I credit him with that because he saw this was not right.
If people are in a negotiating process, that is not the way to do business. The Department officials had too much power and showed a lack of respect for the Minister and arrogance and contempt for the organisation with which they were dealing. That statutory instrument was signed when the people were going up to negotiate it. I note it has been resurrected since by the said-same officials, and now the organisations are being told they will not have any more consultation and that the consultations are over. One meeting took place, and then there was the meeting at which they were brought in and shown the done deal. That is utter contempt for an industry that is keeping this country going. We saw in the snow and the storm recently that it was the farmers, contractors and all those people who had tractors, scrapers, loaders, JCBs, silage grabs and whatever else who cleaned the roads, pulled their neighbours out of the snow, brought food to people and everything else, and this is the contempt the Department has for them, instead of respecting them.
We all know that if bigger tractors are too fast on the road, they need to undergo a CVRT - I am not saying otherwise - but the law was so stupid that I live in Newcastle, in Clonmel, south Tipperary, and if I wanted to go to the mart in Dungarvan, which is 20 miles away, I could not go with a tractor that is suitable for the road. This is not to say that I am in farming or have been in the cattle trade. However, if my neighbour wanted to go, he or she could not go with a modern tractor with a 40 kg box, yet he could pull out an old Major or a 30 year old Massey Ferguson and go off to the mart with the same load on a tractor that might not have any air brakes or oil brakes, only the old-fashioned wet brakes or dry brakes. This is the kind of kindergarten S-H-1-T - I hate calling it that, but that is what it is - that is coming out. It is completely off the radar that one could bring out a 30 year old or 40 year old tractor, a vintage machine, but one could not go with a modern tractor that is roadworthy and which has air brakes and everything else any more than a distance of 19 miles and 19 miles back. When I raised this with the Minister here previously, I asked if we would be like the drovers again, and if we would have to hunt the cattle and the sheep to the mart, as I often did as a buachaill óg. I hunted them from farm to farm, ten miles in cases, but one cannot do that now with the traffic.
The Minister would want to get out into the country and perhaps relocate his Department from its plush surroundings and re-examine or re-evaluate the RSA. I will repeat that there is a great young man in Tipperary with a wonderful idea of a tyre app such that when any of us buys tyres, the information is put into the computer and we get a reminder after so many thousand kilometres that the tyres need changing. I know that in most places tyres are not checked or looked at. I am not saying I am the best at doing so myself, but from being involved in the machinery business I have more interest in tyres than some. However, some will just drive until they get a skid and then we see the tyre is bald. The Minister organised a meeting with this chap after about 18 months with the head of the RSA, and I thank him for that again. Unfortunately, the appointment was in Sligo on a Monday morning. The young man duly closed his business early on Sunday night and drove to Athlone or somewhere, booked into a bed and breakfast and arrived for said appointment. The head of the RSA did not even think it worthy to turn up. There was no apology, no nothing. This is the kind of arrogant, contemptible people in these organisations.
These are the quangos that have mushroomed up and which the Minister wrote about for a decade at least. He wrote about quangoland and jobs for the boys and so on. The Sunday Independentwould be snapped up from the shops on Sunday mornings and people would read about this man and his views on quangos. They were honest views and appraisals, but the Minister seems to have forgotten about them. The RSA is one of the greatest quangos in the country. The Minister resisted for a long time giving them extra board members, in spite of the RSA's requests, but he succumbed and gave it more board members. Instead of doing that, I would have asked them what they were doing, why they needed all these board members and what the RSA itself was costing. I will repeat what I said here the previous day, with the permission of An Leas-Cheann Comhairle, about all the testing centres in this country for the people whose cars have to undergo NCTs. They are tormented trying to get their cars through the NCT. I have no problem with the NCT for brakes, tyres, the chassis and other important things.
There are other niggly bits such as a cap on a seat belt holder missing or a rubber on the boot loose and not properly fixed. Every one of the centres is operating outside the law. They do not meet fire safety regulations. I put that to the Minister a month ago and I want to know whether he made any inquiries about it. Will the RSA be allowed to operate test centres that are not within the law? This is a serious question. I have had no response from the Minister or his officials, and I do not see them passing any note to him either now, but they might take down a note and ask me whether I am talking through my hat. I have this from an engineer working in the trade and he told me every one of them is not within the law. When my car or the car of the Minister is brought in, it is tested for emissions but the place is not safe for the staff and the centres are in breach of fire and other regulations and they are not checked for fumes. They can fail us and we have to sign a disclaimer for our little cars, whether it is a young 17 or 18 year old girl or a businessman, that if anything happens the engine during the excessive test with the revving up, which is very bad for engines, that it is the driver's fault. I am not blaming the testers, but they can blow the engine out of the car and it is the fault of the person who owns the car. That is a funny law.
The Minister is also attacking vintage vehicles, but if they were put through that test the engines would be blown in more than half of them. They are older and were built in a different time. They have been resting up, apart from doing vintage runs which are normally held in summer time. They raise money for charities, whether for hospitals or Parkinson's groups, and the money raised by vintage runs is phenomenal. It is keeping the country ticking over. It sends sick children to hospitals abroad when the Government cannot do it. If the Minister insists on putting those vehicles through this rigorous test, most of the owners will not put them through it because they love their vehicles. They have them polished and shining. They are a credit to them and reminders of the past. They will not allow the vehicles do the test because they know the engines would not sustain the high revs on an idle platform. It is another brainwave. These vehicles had an exemption because they are only used for vintage runs and displays and they are not goods vehicles.
These are all harebrained ideas from someone in officialdom who never had a lorry or van, never had to travel a country road and never had to cycle because they can pop on a Luas, a DART, a bus, a taxi or the new metro underground. This morning I heard on "Morning Ireland" that the Government has spent €180 million so far on studies and reports for a project in Dublin. The Tipperary county manager has made a submission to the Minister and we met him last week. He is looking for €190 million to try to bring the roads back to a reasonable modicum of where they should be and he is being laughed at, but the Government can spend €180 million on consultants, design engineers and desktop studies without a test hole even being dug or any public consultation. The amount of €180 million is chicken-feed and we cannot get money to fill potholes or deal with a street in Tipperary town which, if one drove on it twice on the way back from the NCT centre, one's car would no longer have a valid NCT because the tracking would be out or ball joints would be gone wrong. The Minister will not deal with these issues. He came down and saw the street in Tipperary and I thank him for it. He saw how bad it is but fágadh é mar atá sé. It has been left the way it was.
There is a plethora of issues to be dealt with, and this is the best the Minister can come up with and persist with. We who have to live in rural Ireland opposed it, and we are doing no more than representing our people because it is our duty. The Minister went off over Christmas on his journey and came back and decided to lock up L-plate drivers and their parents and take the cars from them. They might have saved up for that car and it might have cost €2,000 or less. I bought one myself for €1,600 but insurance would cost €4,800. It was tested and has a valid NCT certificate but it is still parked up. Then the Minister expects people not to go out. How will they ever learn to drive if they have to be accompanied by their parents or an elder all the time? I am not asking anyone to break the law but, as Deputy Michael Healy-Rae said last night, insurance companies have insured and continue to insure the likes of Geraldine O'Connor, who sent me that email, which I am sure was also sent to many other people. It is like talking into the abyss but the Minister does not seem to want to listen.
There is food for thought in reining in the quangos. Quangoland is alive and well and being nurtured and fertilised by the Minister, in spite of all his writings and mutterings over the years. He is fertilising, stimulating and putting growth promoters on these quangos to make sure they get fatter and stronger and have more power. They are contemptible. The contempt in which they hold the public, road drivers and road users is palpable.
Beekeepers were protesting outside Leinster House today about another Bill. I listened to them and agreed with them on some issues but not on roadside hedges. Every roadside hedge should be cut back and dangerous trees should be felled and the birds and the bees can work away in the fields. I will be coming back to deal with an amendment but I honestly believe this is ill-judged, ill-timed, non-researched and, above all, has not been rural-proofed in any shape, make or form. There is no semblance of rural-proofing. By rural-proofing, I mean every place below Naas. Places in north Dublin and Tallaght and various places in the country will be nearly as badly affected as we will be in Tipperary, Kerry and other places. The Bill should be confined to the dustbin and shredded, and a serious review should be done of the people who are driving it and trying to push it because they are not in touch with reality or do not want to be in touch with reality, which is worse, and refuse to listen. There are none so blind as those who cannot see or do not want to see or hear.
I appeal to the Minister to look back over the weekend on some of the musings he had in the Sunday Independentand other places about all the things wrong with quangoland, official Ireland and this, that and the other. All of a sudden they are all okay now, or is it a case of "I am all right, Jack and to hell with everyone else", pulling up the ladder and let the croppies lie down? I am very disappointed with the attitude and with the lack of answers. I hope, rather than just moving amendments tonight, that the Minister will reply to any point we have made. Mute silence is just ridiculous. The Minister will not even engage, talk, meet or entertain. I do not know what is wrong. This is meant to be a Parliament where we debate issues and Bills. As far as my colleagues in Fianna Fáil on my right are concerned, I do not know whether they are coming or going because at one time they support the Bill and the next time they are against it. I do not know whether they can find the courage to stand up with us to give us a vote, which is not expecting much. Last night six of us stood and we needed four more to get a vote and other Deputies could then vote as they wanted to. It is a sad situation.