Wednesday, 1 April 2015
Vehicle Clamping Bill 2014 [Seanad]: Report and Final Stages
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 5, to delete line 19 and substitute the following:“(3) The Road Traffic Acts 1961 to 2014 and Part 5 may be cited together as the Road Traffic Acts 1961 to 2015.”.This is a technical amendment. As we are now in 2015 and the Bill was drafted in a previous year, the Chief Parliamentary Counsel has updated the legislative reference dates in the collective citation of the Bill.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 9, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following:This amendment inserts a standard expenses section in the Bill as a new section 6. The new section provides, subject to the consent and sanction of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, for the expenses of the National Transport Authority, NTA, in carrying out the functions conferred on it by the Bill. It is not anticipated that any new funding will be required by my Department in connection with the administration of the Bill once enacted. The expenses of the NTA are expected to be relatively modest and will be found from within my Department's Vote. However, the Chief Parliamentary Counsel considers it prudent to include an expenses section in the Bill.
“Expenses6.The expenses incurred by the Minister in the administration of this Act shall, to the extent sanctioned by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, be paid out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas.”.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 11, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following:I raise an issue that is very serious in my constituency and many others, particularly where there are new and multi-unit developments. There are three aspect to the amendment. First, clamping should not be used to get a person to pay a debt, second, clamping companies should be regulated, and third, the odious practice of clamping people at hospitals should be banned. Clamping was allegedly introduced for traffic management purposes, to facilitate the free flow of traffic, etc. However, private companies of various shades are using clamping for profiteering in the most despicable manner at the expense of people who are in very vulnerable situations.
“Limitation of clamping activities in certain clamping places
10. (1) It shall be an offence under this Act to apply a clamp to a vehicle for the purposes of seeking payment for a debt or unpaid charge.
(2) It shall be an offence under this Act for an Owners’ Management Company, as defined by the Multi-Unit Developments Act 2011, to apply a clamp to a car unless it is operating as a clamping operator under the terms of this Act.
(3) Clamping operators or clamping controllers may not apply a clamping device to a person that is a patient in a health facility or visiting a patient in a health facility.”.
People who frequently need to visit hospitals are especially in fear. People whose appointments overrun in a crowded waiting room and cannot walk back to the car park in time are clamped. I was clamped as I dropped a specimen in to Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown as I spoke to a doctor at the door. Even the doctor, who was a member of the board, could not get the clamper to remove the clamp or see any sense. Clamping is being abused. Many of the clamping companies offer piece work and encourage the clampers to clamp as many people as possible for bonuses, which is why they operate as they do. The Minister must agree that clamping has no place in hospitals, where people are in vulnerable and difficult situations and do not need the extra stress.
There is a widespread and despicable practice whereby private estate management companies are using clamping as a way of getting management fee arrears from their members. People come out of their houses and find their cars clamped, although they are parked in parking spaces which they are legally entitled to use and which do not block anyone's access or egress. In many cases, they must pay up to €150. This has happened in Applewood estate in Swords, the Phoenix Park Racecourse in Dublin 15, my area, Ongar, Archers Wood and many other estates. The Government should send a message to private management companies. There can be many reasons people do not pay estate management fees, and this is not a justifiable way of getting them to pay arrears.
I am very familiar with estate management companies, which have been a scourge throughout Dublin West and in many other recently developed areas. Estate management companies were imposed in multi-unit estates. Obviously, an apartment block needs a collective structure for insurance, a sinking fund etc. However, most of the management companies apply to people who have their own houses, with front and back entrances and no need for a management company. Former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, recognised this in the Dáil in 2006 and sent a circular to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government indicating that the practice should not apply to houses in the future. The problem is that there are many estates that were built in the limbo period during which planning permission was given and which have been left with these private management companies.
I live in an estate where we do not have clamping or parking issues. We have a management company as a legacy issue, although, with advice from Fingal County Council, we have taken a democratic decision, in conjunction with the council, that the houses should be released from it. However, tens of thousands of people throughout the country are legitimately withholding fees because they do not agree they should have to pay them. They are being charged fees of €200 to €300 for the maintenance of a sprig or a bush in front of their houses, which they are well capable of maintaining themselves.
In Tyrellstown, people are paying insurance on a car parking space. These are totally unjustifiable management company structures. Clampers are being used by the directors of these companies. I have sympathy with some of these directors who are ordinary residents and who have been put in the odious position of having to take over the management company because they live in an apartment block and the management structure was not working for them given the level of arrears and non-payment of fees. Residents on one estate are going to court because it is totally unjustifiable to live in a house, maintain and insure it and then have to pay a management fee. In Ongar, Clonsilla, Dublin 15 and in other areas, people are waking up and finding that they have been clamped because they have not paid the management fee. This is effective because the payment of the fees seems to increase when this happens, but is it right? This is extortion in a sense with people having to pay an unjust fee. They try to sort the management fee out legitimately by dealing with issues in their management company or they may be in arrears because they have lost their job and they cannot afford to pay the fee anymore, which has been the case during the recession. We should ban clamping for that purpose on behalf of those people.
Legislation needs to be introduced to deal with management companies and to ensure houses can be released from their control in a fair and workable way. The legal advice is that this can be done and the Government needs to deal with this problem because it has left many people on newly developed estates in a difficult position having to pay unjust fees to management companies while getting clamped in the process. I ask the Minister to accept the amendment. This major issue was raised by a host of Members on Committee Stage. It will also be an election issue.
I support the amendments. I raised the issue of clamping on hospital grounds earlier, particularly Blanchardstown hospital where I have witnessed this many times. People who had to rush into the accident and emergency department come out afterwards to discover their car clamped. Patients and visitors who are detained for different reasons when they go into the hospital are also being clamped. It is despicable that a person can come out of a hospital to find their car clamped having being delayed through no fault of their own. I have always said another mechanism can be used to deal with that. When this issue was raised on Committee Stage, the Minister said he was not in favour of this but there are ways of addressing this issue. Barriers could be used in order that people can at least access their cars and get in and out of the car park. To be clamped and have to pay a fine having visited someone who is sick or having to go in sick as a patient is a big issue.
It is common practice for management companies to use clamping to put pressure on people to pay management fees and I am aware of this happening in many areas, including Lanesborough, Hampton Wood and so on. This practice should not be allowed. More rules are needed to regulate management companies. We need to examine how they do this. I would much prefer if we went down the road of having local authorities manage all these estates instead of having myriad management companies with different rules. I welcome the Minister's move to bring fines on public and private roads into line. That is welcome because the cost of unlocking clamped cars varies significantly.
We had a discussion on these issues on Committee Stage. I wish we were discussing parking in its totality and, as a subset, where clamping fits into it but that is not what the Bill is about and I understand that. The amendments are an attempt to moderate the actions taken in extreme cases in the context of clamping.
Many traditional housing estates, which do not contain an apartment, are run by management companies. Sometimes, the developer has a proxy vote giving him a majority. The management company then determines that people must pay clamping fees because a majority vote decides on such initiatives to recoup management fees. This does not dovetail well with the Multi-Unit Development Act 2011. Typically, people are stressed in terms of paying a mortgage and they make a decision on whether to pay the management fee or the mortgage to keep the roof over their heads. In most cases, they are not trying to avoid paying the fee but they simply do not have the money to pay it. I have had people in my clinics in tears over this. Their car has been immobilised for days and they have been unable to go to work. In addition, workers making deliveries and visitors to residents have also been clamped. It is a blunt instrument. These cars are not causing an obstruction on the public road and this clamping policy is a means of collecting the management fee.
I fully appreciate that in the case of an apartment, a management company arrangement will always be needed given there will be shared spaces that require to be managed. However, in the early part of the first decade of the new millennium, the establishment of management companies was routine, whether the development was full of apartments or traditional housing. There needs to be an understanding of what is going on. Clamping is not appropriate as a sanction. Other measures such as the simple contract debt sanction could be pursued without adopting this approach. No court would impose the sanction the clampers can impose. People can run up debts of between €300 and €400 in a week because they do not have the money to release the clamp. It is unfair to treat citizens in that way. An amount is charged per night until the clamping fine is paid and it is a blunt instrument.
Deputies Ellis, Coppinger and I particularly focused on Blanchardstown hospital in the context of clamping fines because that is the hospital about which we receive most complaints. These complaints are ongoing. Clamping is in place 24-7 and does not stop at 5 p.m. People run in and out of the hospital to put money in the machine only to find they have been clamped. I have dealt with cases of families who were visiting relatives in the final days of their lives. That last thing on their minds was to worry about the car being clamped but they came out of the hospital to find it had been, which is inappropriate. They were parked in a designated parking space and, for example, they were not in a disabled space or obstructing traffic. I have no problem with parking charges given, as the Minister said on Committee Stage, we cannot have a scenario where people use hospital car parks such as the one in St. James's Hospital inappropriately. I get that as part of an overall policy but where somebody is trying to have tests done or is visiting a patient who is seriously ill, the use of clamping as a means of sanction is highly inappropriate.
It is not necessary. The only ones gaining from it are the clamping companies. It is not as if the hospital is gaining from it. I hope the Minister will accept these amendments. It is not a question of throwing out an entire policy or legislation, it is about at least taking out some of the worst excesses.
It is interesting to see how Government policy on some issues does not dovetail with other areas of policy. There is a plan for the renewal of rural Ireland. One of the initiatives concerns parking in towns. At the same time, there are towns where part of the reason people will not go near them is the risk of being clamped. Being clamped once is enough to put them off ever coming back. It has a dramatic impact and there are a myriad of arrangements in many towns. It is not just the local authorities, it may be two or three different companies, some of which use clamping as the main sanction. One also finds it at railway stations. This happens when people do not expect it. For example, I was at the railway station in Leixlip where people came to park and get the train to Croke Park on a Sunday or bank holiday Monday. Yes, there are signs, but most people would not expect to come back and have to pay €140 to undo the clamp. This must be better thought out. It is not about modifying the legislation for the clampers, it is about looking at parking policy in its totality and the impact it has on other things. For example, we want to discourage people coming all the way into town when there is a big match on. We want them, for example, to come as far as train stations on the periphery and get the train in. This legislation does not achieve that because of the way it is imposed. There are many different issues, but the most offensive situations are in housing estates, where management companies are using this as a sanction when there is no need to do so, and most offensive of all, in hospitals, which is unfair on people when they are at their lowest.
I thank the Deputies for their contributions. I will begin where Deputy Murphy finished. She urged that this Bill be focused on parking policy. She correctly said this Bill does not take the approach of dealing with parking policy. It deals with the regulation of clamping, which is something that has not happened before in such a strong and national manner as this Bill proposes. I will use the Deputy's example of clamping on large match days or around sporting events to show why we are not dealing with parking policy itself. If we were to take the approach in this Bill of trying to regulate parking policy, this Bill would have to deal with the specifics of events like that.
Do we believe there are any circumstances in which clamping is allowed? I do. I believe there are other circumstances in which clamping should not be allowed and other sanctions or criteria should be used to deal with illegal parking. The reason this Bill does not get into the realm of trying to dictate parking policy is precisely that there are so many different situations and so many needs all over the country regarding parking, which could have the potential for clamping. If I were looking to do that, I would then be dealing with charges from members of the Opposition that I am trying to take power away from the people who best know how that power should be wielded, namely, local authorities or statutory bodies which look after property they own. If I were looking to deal with parking policy, the claim would be made against me that the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and myself were removing power from local authorities, for example. Local authorities are the bodies best placed to develop policy for their areas. It is because of the different nuances and local needs to which parking policy must respond that this Bill looks at the regulation of the activity of clamping, while recognising the right of other parties, such as statutory bodies and local authorities, to determine what is the best policy for parking in their areas, and charging the National Transport Authority with playing a role in the regulation of clamping that takes place as a consequence of the failure of motorists or clampers to take cognisance of the parking policy in that area.
The amendments proposed by Deputies Coppinger, Murphy and Higgins seek to make it an offence to clamp a vehicle for the purposes of recovering an unpaid debt or charge and within multi-unit developments to make it an offence under the Multi-Units Development Act 2011 for an owners' management company to clamp a car unless it is operating as a clamping operator under the terms of this Bill. They also seek to prohibit the clamping of vehicles in residential developments other than to facilitate the free flow of traffic and the clamping of vehicles in hospital and health facilities that belong to patients or people visiting patients. As I said on different stages of the Bill, and a moment ago, this Bill is not about parking policy itself, for the reasons I have outlined. It is not about where clamping should or should not be carried out, whether on the public road, in hospital car parks, in residential areas, or anywhere else. This decision was made from the outset of the Bill. This Bill seeks to deal with the activity of clamping if used as a means of parking control. For this reason, it is beyond the scope of this Bill to legislate for practices within the property management sector. In the case of hospitals and health facilities, while I would prefer clamping not be used and that alternative means of parking control were used, I must also accept that it is the right of the individuals and organisations running those hospitals to decide how they deal with parking needs on their own property. Deputy Coppinger used the example of James Connolly Hospital, with which I am familiar. It is adjacent to the National Sports Campus and other areas of employment.
It is beside the National Sports Campus, it is right beside it. Let us tease this out because we have gone through it on Committee Stage already. Am I to say there are no circumstances at all in which clamping should be allowed within a hospital? There could be circumstances in which clamping is allowed in the hospital. The board of management or the people running a hospital might decide that if clamping is not used, it might deprive patients or staff of their ability to use the facilities that are there. The fact that I accept that there are some circumstances in which a hospital might decide that clamping is used or should be used is another reason I have decided from the outset that this Bill should not deal with the regulation of parking policy itself. Instead, it should deal with the circumstances in which clamping takes place and, through the National Transport Authority, set out a framework within which the rights and responsibilities of both people who are clamped and the people who do the clamping are clearly laid out and processes are in place to allow appeal either to the clamper or to the person who is clamped in areas in which a car is clamped for the infringement of parking policy.
For those reasons, I cannot accept these amendments.
The Minister is looking at clamping purely from a Dublin City Council perspective because it is the only local authority that operates clamping. All the others are private clampers. Clamping has been outlawed in England, Scotland and Wales and the world has not fallen in on top of them. In fact, they regulate parking in a coherent way, which is clear if one visits any of those three places. The Minister talked about Blanchardstown hospital. For the life of me I cannot figure out how the Minister can stand up here and make that silly argument about parking there and going up to the National Sports Campus. Blanchardstown it is not an area I know extraordinarily well, but I do know it. The Blanchardstown Centre has thousands of free car parking spaces with buses coming in and out of it. Why would one park in the hospital grounds? I cannot see any logic in what the Minister is talking about in that regard. It just does not stack up.
There is a need for a parking policy that is coherent. The lack of such a policy is having a negative impact on businesses in town centres and villages by virtue of the fact that it is difficult to figure out exactly what the regime is. In my area of Celbridge there are four different arrangements. There is the local authority and three different companies which charge three different amounts. What is the public supposed to think? Is it supposed to read the bylaws and every sign before parking their car? That is the kind of thing that puts people off. They come back and find they have to pay between €80 and €120. The Bill will take the worst excesses away, and there are positives in it from that point of view, but it is lacking in ambition in terms of what is needed. We have to ask why this is only thing the Bill set out to do when there is so much more needed that can be done.
It is ridiculous for the Minister to say he cannot legislate for these serious issues in the Bill. Serious abuses of clamping have been pointed out by private companies. Why is it outside the scope of the Bill, given that the Minister is meant to regulate the private clamping companies? We have shown the Minister a really serious case and he is going to ignore it. His predecessor, Deputy Leo Varadkar, should be well aware that this is a major issue not only in his own constituency but in Kildare, parts of Dublin City and many other areas.
Connolly hospital has been raised by a number of Deputies as being a particular offender, with no mercy shown to those who are clamped. It was laughable when the Minister said that was because the hospital is adjacent to the National Sports Campus, where my sister works. It has hundreds of acres and there is no pressure on parking there. It is clear there is not a need for this. Other issues can be considered to regulate parking without resorting to clamping. Other hospitals do not use clamping. They have looked at underground car parks, barriers or whatever. It has been pointed out by Dublin City Council that these workers have to clamp or else they are not paid properly. Dublin City Council set a target of €60,000 for clampers. Some of the companies are unlimited companies in the Isle of Man and would surely have to be properly regulated, submitting financial accounts and so on. Unfortunately our amendments were ruled out on that issue. In a number of these companies the workers literally have to clamp cars - otherwise, they will not be paid - so there is no rhyme or reason other than profiteering. It is disappointing that the Minister has done nothing about parking at hospitals, but it is also poor form, because the previous Government should have dealt with management companies and regulated to allow houses to be released, which is the main problem. The Government is continuing a decade-long problem whereby people are left in these invidious positions.
I thank both Deputies for their comments, but they make no sense whatsoever. Deputy Catherine Murphy and Deputy Ruth Coppinger are the two Deputies, among other Deputies, who continually stand up and argue for the need for proper power to be devolved to local authorities, yet they want me, through the Bill before the House, to determine national parking policy. They cannot have it both ways. They cannot say they want power devolved to local authorities to allow them to determine how parking should be implemented in their areas if, the moment they are not happy with what they do, they come into the Dáil and ask me to remove that power from them. That is what they want.
I find it extraordinary that Deputies within the Independent tradition in particular, who I would have thought would be very aware of the powers that local authorities should have, should come to the House and ask that we remove flexibility and power from local authorities and enshrine it in legislation which is not capable of recognising the extraordinary diversity of areas and properties and the various ownership structures of areas within which parking takes place. They cannot have their cake and eat it in respect of this issue. They cannot say that local authorities should be more powerful, yet, in a case in which they are not happy with how they use that power, come in and ask for that power to be removed by amending the legislation.
That is what the Deputy was referring to. I am picking up on the example used by Deputy Catherine Murphy. We are talking about how parking policy should be administered within areas, and what the Deputies are asking is that that be determined in a piece of primary legislation.
When I put a case forward, it is dismissed as ridiculous, despicable or whatever. I am simply making the point that it was a reasonable choice for the Bill to take and that we would be able to achieve more by regulating how clamping takes place, which is what we have done. The reason we have done that is that there are so many bodies involved in the administration of parking policy that it would be exceptionally difficult for the Bill to deliver policy in that area. That is the approach we have taken.
On the issue of clamping within hospital grounds, I have said, as I said on Committee Stage, that I believe hospitals should use means of parking control other than clamping, which most hospitals do. We had an example of one hospital on Committee Stage. We must accept it is still the right of people within a hospital unit, who have responsibility for the maintenance of that area, to decide how parking policy should be administered within that area. That is what the Bill allows. Deputy Catherine Murphy offered mild praise here, but it is the first time this sector has been examined properly through primary legislation. The reason we are doing this is to deal with the many difficulties within the sector and to give rights, as enshrined in the Bill for the first time, to people who are clamped, and also to recognise the need for clamping companies and people involved in clamping to be properly regulated.
- Gerry Adams
- Tommy Broughan
- Dara Calleary
- Joan Collins
- Niall Collins
- Michael Colreavy
- Ruth Coppinger
- Clare Daly
- Stephen Donnelly
- Timmy Dooley
- Dessie Ellis
- Martin Ferris
- Seán Fleming
- Tom Fleming
- Noel Grealish
- John Halligan
- Séamus Healy
- Joe Higgins
- Colm Keaveney
- Billy Kelleher
- Michael Kitt
- Mary Lou McDonald
- Finian McGrath
- Mattie McGrath
- Michael McGrath
- Sandra McLellan
- Micheál Martin
- Peter Mathews
- Michael Moynihan
- Catherine Murphy
- Denis Naughten
- Seán Ó Fearghaíl
- Thomas Pringle
- Shane Ross
- Róisín Shortall
- Brendan Smith
- Brian Stanley
- Robert Troy
- Mick Wallace
- James Bannon
- Pat Breen
- Joan Burton
- Ray Butler
- Jerry Buttimer
- Catherine Byrne
- Eric Byrne
- Joe Carey
- Paudie Coffey
- Michael Conaghan
- Seán Conlan
- Paul Connaughton
- Noel Coonan
- Marcella Corcoran Kennedy
- Michael Creed
- Jim Daly
- John Deasy
- Pat Deering
- Regina Doherty
- Paschal Donohoe
- Robert Dowds
- Andrew Doyle
- Bernard Durkan
- Damien English
- Alan Farrell
- Frank Feighan
- Anne Ferris
- Frances Fitzgerald
- Eamon Gilmore
- Brendan Griffin
- Dominic Hannigan
- Tom Hayes
- Martin Heydon
- Brendan Howlin
- Kevin Humphreys
- Derek Keating
- Paul Kehoe
- Seán Kenny
- Seán Kyne
- Anthony Lawlor
- Ciarán Lynch
- Kathleen Lynch
- Michael McCarthy
- Helen McEntee
- Gabrielle McFadden
- Dinny McGinley
- Joe McHugh
- Tony McLoughlin
- Michael McNamara
- Eamonn Maloney
- Olivia Mitchell
- Mary Mitchell O'Connor
- Eoghan Murphy
- Dan Neville
- Patrick O'Donovan
- Fergus O'Dowd
- Jan O'Sullivan
- Willie Penrose
- John Perry
- Ann Phelan
- John Paul Phelan
- Ruairi Quinn
- Pat Rabbitte
- James Reilly
- Michael Ring
- Brendan Ryan
- Arthur Spring
- Emmet Stagg
- David Stanton
- Liam Twomey
- Jack Wall
- Alex White
I move amendment No. 10:
In page 14, line 6, to delete “statutory”.This amendment would have the effect of banning the clamping of cars with a disabled parking permit in all parking spaces, not just on public roads, harbours, etc. It would also cover private parking places in estates, hospitals, schools and so forth. I do not believe it is reasonable that a disabled person using a disabled parking space and who could be delayed getting back to their car for myriad reasons, some of which have already been mentioned, should be clamped. It is an abuse of people who are already disabled enough by society. Will the Minister agree to the amendment?
The use of the term “statutory clamping place” in section 13(1)(b) is intended to distinguish between places where clamping is operated on what are generally State lands and where it is carried out on private property. As for vehicles displaying a valid disabled person’s parking permit, the current clamping exemption provided for on public roads is now being extended to any statutory clamping place.
An important change in this Bill is the designation of the recognition of the role of a disabled parking permit which is recognised on public roads. This is being extended to any area that is designated as a statutory clamping place. This includes lands belonging to or occupied by CIE, the Rail Procurement Agency, a State harbour or a harbour. This Bill will extend the amount of public lands inside which the parking needs for people with a disability are being recognised.
Vehicles displaying a valid disabled person’s parking permit will not be exempt from clamping on private land. Private car park operators are responsible for determining the location of any disabled person’s parking place and for policing the use of any such spaces on their own lands or car parks. Any cars that are parked in contravention of parking terms and conditions in these spaces are liable to be clamped. It is for that reason that I am not in a position to accept the Deputy’s amendment. As the Bill is phrased, we are extending the recognition of the needs of disabled drivers by including a wider realm of public lands.
Does the Minister know how ridiculous it sounds to claim there is one parking law for public places and a different law for private places? He is actually giving greater powers to private management companies in all the places I listed earlier. That makes no sense. Hopefully, disabled people will only park in the statutory spaces.
Again, I am struck by a feature of how Deputy Coppinger engages in these matters.
If anyone has a different point of view on any matter, it is ridiculous and I am incapable of understanding the needs of people who have needs-----
It is a constant feature of the way the Deputy approaches these matters. If anyone holds a different view, that view is ridiculous or the issue is despicable. What I am doing here is making a much-needed improvement that is overdue in meeting and recognising the needs of drivers with disabilities by extending the number of public lands in respect of statutory clamping places. As a result of doing this, additional public land will be covered by this, including land owned by CIE, the RPA, State airports or harbours. I am simply recognising the ability of people who own private property to determine the parking policy for that area. The NTA will be able to play a role in respect of appeals and how clamping operates but because there is such a wide range of parking spaces across the country with different needs in those places, not to mention a multiplicity of owners, it is beyond the scope of this Bill to be able to recognise the complexity of all of that. This is why we continue to recognise the role of either the landowner or bodies like local authorities.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 14, line 16, to delete "non-statutory".I will be very brief. The purpose of these amendments is to extend maximum clamp release and relocation charges and fees to public places, so the amendments remove the word "non-statutory". The effect of that would be to widen the NTA's remit in regulating clamping to include public roads, harbours and airports and not just private operators. I hope the Minister will accept the amendments.
Reference to non-statutory clamping places within the Bill refers to places where clamping is carried out on private land. Where clamping is operated under an existing enactment, these places are referred to in the Bill as statutory clamping places and include the public road and lands belonging to or operated by a State airport, harbours and lands belonging to the Railway Procurement Agency or CIE. Therefore, the specific inclusion of the term "non-statutory clamping places" in this section refers to this clear distinction between the two categories of clamping places. While clamp release and vehicle relocation charges are set by statutory bodies in statutory clamping places, such charges are set by private entities in non-statutory clamping places. This is the reason I am not in a position to accept this amendment.
The reason I tabled this amendment is because sharp practice is also practised by public bodies which use clampers. It is not just the private management companies, although I would have liked the Minister to take much stronger action against them earlier on. I think Dublin City Council is the only local authority that uses clamping. An article in The Irish Times stated that Dublin City Council set a target of 60,000 vehicles for clampers so the company doing the clamping is actually setting a target. If 60,000 vehicles are clamped in Dublin that year, the company offered to pay staff a bonus of €2,000 each. If the overall target was not met, only individual clampers who managed to clamp 2,800 vehicles per year would be rewarded. The Minister can see the aim is not to manage traffic but to clamp people at all costs. This is a private company operating on behalf of a local authority - a statutory agency. Clampers can apparently leave a ten-hour shift after 8.5 hours if they have clamped 21 vehicles. In a letter to staff, the company's management while working for a public body said that the council was not happy with the number of clampings in 2012 and that the company was expected to deliver approximately 60,000 clampings in 2012 but only delivered 54,000.
This shows how public bodies are subcontracting to private companies, some of which do not file accounts and operate offshore. They are also putting huge pressure on staff to clamp. We have all had the experience of being clamped after being one minute or two minutes late. We know that Merrion Square, which is right behind us, is a hotspot. It is purely for this reason and not to regulate traffic flow. That was the reason I asked the Minister to extend it to public bodies who use clampers.
I followed up on the matter to which Deputies referred on previous Stages of the Bill in respect of the nature of the arrangement organisations such as Dublin City Council might have with private clamping organisations. My Department has been informed by Dublin City Council that there are neither penalties nor incentives relating to the number of cars being clamped. That is the information I have received from the council which I accept.
In respect of the specific point the Deputy put to me, I accept the merit of some of the concerns she raises. However, some of the issues she raises are dealt with in section 14 which deals with maximum clamp release charges and vehicle relocation charges on private land by the NTA. Section 14 gives the NTA the power to deal with matters like clamp release charges and relocation fees. If such charges are not created by the NTA, the Bill will put in place a default setting relating to fees. The fee in non-statutory clamping places will be €100 with a maximum relocation charge of €50. We are looking to put in place maximum charges for those kinds of activities if the NTA does not implement a code of practice. It is my expectation that the NTA will use the powers that are open to it and implement a code of practice relating to some of the behaviour just described by the Deputy.
I move amendment No. 16:
In page 16, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:
"17. (1) The NTA shall make regulations prohibiting clamping activities in the following locations:(a) a designated parking place for visitors and patients at Health Service Executive funded hospitals and voluntary public hospitals; and
(b) a designated parking place within a residential development with the exception of cases where clamping activity is required to facilitate the free flow of vehicular traffic.(2)(a) For the purposes of this section, “parking place” has the same meaning specified in the Act of 1961.(b) For the purposes of this section, “residential development” means any development on land containing two or more residential dwelling places or two or more buildings intended to be used as dwelling places.".
I move amendment No. 17:
In page 16, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:We discussed the issue covered by this amendment on Committee Stage. Although it does not really relate to clamping, I will explain it again. In other jurisdictions, including Northern Ireland, when a person is issued with a fixed notice penalty and the penalty is paid within 14 days the amount is reduced by 50%. This has proven to be very effective in the North, where it has led to a reduction in administration costs and the speedier payment of fines. I accept that the proposal is not in keeping with this legislation and for this reason I propose to withdraw the amendment and submit it for consideration in the context of legislation dealing with parking.
"17. (1) The NTA shall make regulations stipulating that, in every instance where a charge imposed in accordance with this section is paid before the stipulated deadline, where applicable, the total charge payable shall be reduced by half.
(2) The regulations stipulated in subsection (1) shall apply to charges issued in respect of wrongfully parked vehicles at statutory clamping places and non-statutory clamping places.".
I thank the Deputy for withdrawing the amendment, which as she said we discussed on Committee Stage. I would appreciate if the Deputy could let me know if the mechanism whereby early payment leads to a reduction in the penalty amount applies to road traffic offences in respect of which clamping has occurred or if it applies to a wider variety of offences. If the Deputy does not have the information now, she could forward it to me at a later date.
Deputy Murphy's amendment raises an interesting issue. A clamp can only be released when payment of the fine has been made. I have had the experience of having to wait in awful weather conditions for two and a half hours from the point of payment to have a clamp removed. That is not acceptable. I believe that clamping companies, having been paid a release fee by credit card, should be fined in cases where the clamp is not removed within, say, one hour. Perhaps that is already provided for in the legislation. The maximum time limit within which following payment a clamp should be removed is one hour.
The Deputy is correct. I would go a stage further. For example, if a vehicle is clamped because it is blocking a public road or the point of exit from an estate, it is in the interests of everyone that the vehicle be moved on from that place. This Bill gives the National Transport Authority the power to put in place a code of practice which it will then enforce. I expect that one of the areas that will be covered by that code of practice is that referred to by the Deputy. One of the reasons a vehicle could be clamped is because it is in breach of parking policy. Where such a breach occurs, the sooner the clamp is removed upon release of the charge, the sooner the vehicle can be moved on from the place in which the offence was committed. It is in everyone's interests that the matter be dealt with.
A reduction in the charge which might apply in relation to an ordinary parking fine could not apply to clamping because in that case payment would have been already made. A clamping company will not give a refund.
I move amendment No. 20:
In page 26, between lines 11 and 12, to insert the following:During discussion on this amendment on Committee Stage the Minister said that what I am seeking to achieve by way of this amendment is provided for by way of statutory instrument. The local authority with which I have been dealing was not aware that it had the power to partially revise a by-law. Putting in place a full set of by-laws can be very problematic. The Minister undertook on Committee Stage to notify the local authorities of this power. My main motivation in tabling this amendment is to find out from the Minister if he has done so.
"Amendment of section 35 of the Road Traffic Act 1994
32. Section 35(2) of the Road Traffic Act 1994 is amended by the substitution of the following paragraph for paragraph (l):“(l) specifying, or authorising specified road authorities by resolution to specify, the places in which vehicles may be parked either indefinitely or for any period not exceeding a specified period; and to provide for the ability of specified road authorities to either wholly or partially review, amend or abolish such resolutions at any time.".".
I acknowledge that the Deputy raised this matter with me on Committee Stage. I recall that at that time we had a discussion on whether a by-law could be partially revised and that my response was that it could be. On 31 March, I wrote to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government referencing that the Deputy had raised this matter with me and setting out my view and that of my officials as to how this matter could be dealt with. I have forwarded a copy of that correspondence and a cover letter to the Deputy, which obviously she has not yet received.
I thank the Minister for his response. It would make life a lot easier for local authorities if they could tweak by-laws six months on from their initial introduction. I presume that the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government will notify the local authorities about this.
In the communication which I sent to the Minister, Deputy Kelly, I concluded by saying that the Deputy had withdrawn her amendment to this Bill on the basis that I had undertaken to convey to him her request that the Department consider communicating with local authorities to ensure they are aware of the provisions of section 22(3) of the Interpretation Act 2005. It is now up to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to respond to me on the matter. I am sure the Deputy will be copied on that response but I will also send a copy of it to her.
I would signal the following caution. While I do believe the legislative flexibility exists to deal with the issue to which the Deputy refers, I know, based on my own experience as a local representative, that changes to any particular area of parking law or policy has consequences for adjoining areas. For this reason I am of the view that changes in one area should always be made in the context of the effect of the decision in that regard on surrounding communities. That being said, local authorities would be aware of this. In regard to my commitment to contact the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government about this matter, I have done so. The Deputy will receive a copy of that communication imminently, if she has not done so already.