Thursday, 16 February 2012
Question 17: To ask the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport the communications he has had with the Gardaí in relation to criminality in the taxi industry and any other work he has undertaken on this matter. [8610/12]
Question 26: To ask the Minister for Transport; Tourism and Sport if he has met with the Department of Justice and other relevant figures to discuss the need for vetting processes to incorporate as much information from overseas in relation to the background of a person seeking clearance. [8611/12]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 12, 17, 26 and 56 together.
The Government-endorsed taxi regulation review report published last month contains 46 separate actions aimed at improving standards, administration and enforcement within the taxi sector. The broad aim of the report is to increase consumer confidence in the sector and to remove rogue elements therein. We also want to ensure that legitimate and professional taxi operators and drivers can be rewarded fairly by operating under a regulatory regime that is adequately enforced.
The National Transport Authority, NTA, is the lead agency with responsibility for the implementation of the review recommendations. The NTA will make progress reports quarterly to the Taxi Advisory Committee established under the 2003 Act and in its annual report.
Section 3.5 of the report provides an overview of enforcement and compliance matters and refers to a number of legislative changes that will be necessary to strengthen enforcement. Among the issues mentioned is amendment of section 36 of the Taxi Regulation Act 2003 by way of new legislation to be enacted in 2012 that will provide for mandatory disqualification of persons convicted of serious criminal offences from operating in the industry. In addition, the commencement of section 35 of the 2003 Act will allow for a strengthened sanctions regime for suspension or revocation of licences. Improvements regarding on-street compliance will be assisted by enabling the Garda to prosecute in respect of 12 fixed-charge penalty offences through enhanced collaboration between it and the NTA.
As necessary, complementary secondary legislation will be made by the NTA under section 34 of the 2003 Act to clarify the sanctions regime for licence holders. The potential for suspension of a licence subject to certain criteria of breaches of regulations will be examined.
The approach to enforcement and compliance, as outlined in the report, reflects an intensive examination of the area by the review group, which included representatives from the Department of Justice and Equality and An Garda Síochána. Vetting of taxi licence applicants, including those who were resident overseas, will continue to remain the responsibility of An Garda Síochána. The proposed mandatory disqualification provisions will enable corresponding offences committed in other jurisdictions to form part of that disqualification process. Regarding the matter of individuals from overseas, it is envisaged that section 36 of the Taxi Regulation Act 2003 will be amended so as it will apply to people with convictions in other jurisdictions.
I agree this review is long overdue. I read the document and found much of it to be very good, and I disagreed with other aspects. When will we be debating this in the Dáil? Legislative change will be required. There are items in regard to the nine-year rule that I believed we had put to bed. These must be all debated. The Joint Committee on the Environment, Transport, Culture and the Gaeltacht has not yet debated the document. This needs to be done so the Dáil can debate it. Then we can consider what legislation is required.
I ask that the rules on convictions not apply to those encompassed by the Good Friday Agreement. I mentioned this before but the Minister caught me off guard. Will the Minister of State indicate when this matter will be debated in the Dáil and by the committee?
I understand it will be before the committee in the next two weeks. It may even be next Wednesday. The Taoiseach has already committed to having a debate in the House following a question. There will be time provided for this. I take on board what the Deputy is saying on many of the issues. I welcome the debates in both fora because they are necessary.
I have heard many comments on various aspects of the report from people of many political allegiances and none. The report has been broadly welcomed. Considerable implementation work is required. I accept that and the NTA will be primarily responsible in that regard. I will work very closely with it. I took on the chairing of the relevant committee myself and, as such, am happy that the recommendations are the fairest ones that will bring the industry up to the standard required by consumers and taxi drivers. It is a matter of ensuring a safe environment for both drivers and consumers.
I want to make the industry one in which one can make a fair living. That was a core principle that I drove home throughout this process. I look forward to debating the intricacies of all the recommendations.
I know these are only recommendations and need to be debated. I do not agree with all of them and I doubt most people will either. Will this review be made available to the different taxi representative groups in advance of any debate so they can have an input which can feed back to myself and others? It is important we get a feel from them regarding these recommendations.
The report is publicly available. Many of the taxi representatives have digested it already, judging from the significant volume of representations coming into the Department.
I do not know if any other Minister has met with the taxi groups as often as I have. I brought four different people from the taxi industry on to the review group. I have had and will continue to have dialogue with them. They made submissions to the review which were all taken on board when drawing up the recommendations.
They also made comments afterwards about the review. Within the main, however, most of these comments were quite positive. Obviously, there will be some differences of opinion. I expect these can be ironed out during the implementation process which has already begun. I will be reporting further to the Dáil and the transport committee on this process in the next several weeks.