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.
Let me make one point lest there be criticism of me. The Bill has been recommitted. To facilitate the Minister's two amendments, the House agreed to recommit the Bill. If that had not been necessary the debate would be very narrow. The scope of the Bill has been widened, but I believe we can go outside the parameters of that rather than making Second Stage speeches. I ask Deputy Mattie McGrath to confine his remarks to the generality of the Bill and the aspect of it whereby the scope has been widened.
On a point of order, I always respect the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's position in the Chair, but even though it is a recommittal of a Bill, is it not critical that we confine ourselves to amendments that are in order and to discuss those precise points in any contribution at this stage? We have had lengthy discussion about all types of aspects of road traffic policy.
Surely the remit has to be the amendments that are now before us which, to be fair, the House wants to get through as soon as possible. I thank our officials, who have done an outstanding job to bring the legislation forward.
Let us look at amendment No. 2, and I will take the time to read it out. It states:
In page 3, line 7, to delete "Road Traffic Act 2010 and the Road Traffic Act 2002" and substitute the following:"Road Traffic Act 2016, Road Traffic Act 2010, Road Traffic Act 2002, Road Traffic Act 1994 and Road Traffic Act 1961".
We must remember that if it was not necessary to recommit it, it would be necessary to stick to the parameters but this is widening the scope of the Bill. I am allowing that because I believe it is widening the scope of the Bill but I ask the Deputy in the interests of the House to bring his remarks to a conclusion. I cannot stop him. I cannot stop him on Second and Committee Stages either, as he well knows. He can continue indefinitely but we must be responsible as well. The Deputy has 30 minutes and there are others who will want to contribute.
It is the same as with us driving and the L-plate drivers. They use discretion all the time. They are not going around like tanks crashing into and rolling over people, as the Minister seems to think. It was the Minister who decided to recommit the Bill and that gave us the opportunity to debate the parameters. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle read out all the items in the amendment and the different Road Traffic Acts over a number of years. It was the Minister who decided to widen this provision. He could have stuck with the Bill he had, bad and all as it was, but this is a further widening to frighten the life out of young people driving. The vast majority of them are wonderful people who are trying to further their education, get jobs and apprenticeships and be part of the economy.
The Taoiseach told us this morning that we have almost full employment. We want people to be able to travel to work. They cannot crawl or go in a boat. This is Ireland. It is not that big a place. We are not so remote from Dublin that we do not know or understand. We understand the situation very well. With the forbearance of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, we are entitled to represent our people and our views on the doubling up of the Bill. As I said, cyclists will be brought into it as well. I am talking about this part of the Bill and despite recommital, it is why we called a vote last night. I was lamenting the fact that in the last Dáil, I was a member of a Technical Group and fundamentally opposed the outlook of many of its members. They called votes at different times and asked me if I would stand up with them and I did so to allow a vote. There is nothing wrong with standing up to allow the political process to be fulfilled in enabling a vote. When members of another party were so anxious to vote, they were disallowed and told they could not stand up to facilitate a vote. That is not democracy. If it is democracy, it is a very unhealthy one. If Deputy Troy or others are annoyed about that-----
I am acting responsibly. I am making the point that I have stood up at public meetings with others and told people which way I was leaning on this Bill and so have others from other parties, yet now they are doing the exact opposite. That is all I am saying - "To thine own self be true". That is all I can do. I respect that but as I said, a plethora of legislation is being rolled out without any impact assessment of the damage it is doing to rural Ireland.
I attended the formation talks for Government for nigh on 30 days with colleagues. One of the biggest issues we had was that legislation that would be passed here would be rural-proofed. Rural-proofing is anything outside the Pale. Lest people think I am anti-Dublin, I am not. I am just saying some bit of balance must be brought into the equation. We have all kinds of public services here. We even have the new Luas that the Minister and his team have designed but it cannot cross O'Connell Bridge. Dublin has more public transport than can fit in the city. Send a small bit down to us and we will make plenty of room for buses and trains. Let us have some constitutional fairness in the legislation we pass here. Under the Constitution, we are supposed to treat all people equally but it looks very much like some of us are less equal than others. This legislation and other legislation passed by other Ministers, including the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, is very regressive and anti-rural Ireland. I will have time to speak on the amendments. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for his forbearance.
As I said last night, it would have been preferable if this was included on Second Stage and we dealt with it at committee level but, obviously, the process is required because there was a need to make sure this set of amendments were legally sound. We had patience with that because of the origin of this issue. This is not something that was dreamt up because people were looking for something to do. This set of amendments was prompted by very tragic and real circumstances in which people found themselves, ironically in rural Ireland. I think most people know them as the Clancy amendments. They are called that for a particular reason because a woman and her daughter lost their lives. The inquest recommended that this precise legislation be enacted to prevent, as far as we can prevent, the same set of circumstances arising again. I was here last night and the one thing that was not terribly obvious in the commentary last night, and tonight, is that this aspect is being taken seriously. I heard someone say last night that it was perfectly fine to down a couple of pints and then get into a car. I thought we had gone beyond that.
In the past three years, 47 learner drivers have been involved in fatal crashes. This is not a made-up number. A recent edition of "Prime Time" told us that 5.8% of fatal collisions involve a learner driver. We want to keep learner drivers safe but we also want to keep the roads safe. Even though this sometimes requires denying people a freedom they may well feel they should have, it is being done for a good reason. The programme spoke to a man called Alec Lee whose 17 year old daughter, Carol, was killed in Tipperary in 2000. He talked about how heartbroken he is and how senseless the loss of her life was - that was in County Tipperary.
I have listened to Deputy Mattie McGrath at length and he did not refer to that aspect of it at all. This is the reason we are dealing with this set of amendments. It has not been dreamed up out of thin air. It is backed by the RSA, which is not just a quango sitting somewhere trying to find things to do. It gathers information on road traffic accidents that involve a fatality or serious injury. It maps those and goes into the detail of the circumstances of each accident with An Garda Síochána, such as whether it was a wet or dry day, what the junction was like, if a junction was involved, the side of the vehicle that was impacted and what other vehicles were involved. It gathers quite a sizeable amount of information. From that, it makes recommendations as to how we can make our roads safer and reduce the number of fatalities. This is how it should be. Before the RSA existed, the local authorities used to do that and I remember the forms that had to be filled in. There must have been 100 questions on them. A great deal of information is available to the RSA.
When asked for its opinion, the AA raised concerns over how the law would be enforced, which is a valid point. It also stated that it was absolutely and demonstratively true and provable by any road data internationally that it is unsafe for learner drivers to be on the road unaccompanied. That comes from a motoring organisation that has a body of information gathered over decades, not just in Ireland but internationally.
The Road Safety Authority has stated that 5.8% of all fatal crashes between 2014 and 2017 involved a learner driver. That is less than the number of learner drivers on the road, which is 9%. The Road Safety Authority recommends this. I am inclined to look at the evidence. There is considerable evidence indicating that it makes roads safer.
Somebody, who has been involved in a collision that has caused serious harm or death to another person, has to carry that for his or her life, as do the family. There is shame associated with that. Therefore, there are injuries beyond those who are directly impacted.
I was here last night when there was quite a large crowd in the Gallery for a debate on community employment schemes. However, in the middle of that group, was a group of people who have lost family members. The lack of sensitivity in the debate was deplorable. They got that awful knock on the door. They have to live without the person or people in their families who were very central to their families. We are trying to stop that happening to other families. That is why this amendment deserves to be supported. The evidence reinforces what is being proposed here.
While most of my constituency is urban, parts of it are quite rural. While there is a difficulty for people to get to and from work etc., I do not think people want to do that at the expense of causing the kind of carnage that has been caused to families who have got that knock on the door.
I will confine my remarks to this section which is about widening the scope of the Bill. It is important to make the point that this is not frivolous legislation that was dreamt up by some official who had nothing to do with his or her time, backed up by the Road safety Authority, who is doing it for the sake of doing it. There are solid reasons for doing it. For that reason, I believe it should be supported.
Deputy Catherine Murphy has eloquently explained the rationale for the amendment and there is no need to rehearse that. I may be getting ahead of myself. The Minister proposes to repeal section 39 of the Road Traffic Act 2016, which states:
(1) It shall be an offence for the owner of a vehicle to allow their vehicle to be driven by a learner driver driving unaccompanied.
(2) Where a person charged with an offence under this section is the owner of the vehicle, it shall be a good defence to the charge for the person to show that the vehicle was being used without his consent and either that he had taken all reasonable precautions to prevent its being used or that it was being used by his servant acting in contravention of his orders.
(3) Where a person is guilty of an offence under this section and disregarding any disqualification that may be capable of being imposed, such person shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding €2,000 or a term not exceeding six months imprisonment or both such fine and imprisonment.
Am I right in saying the current legislation provides for a penalty for learner drivers driving unaccompanied and that the Minister is proposing as part of the extension of the original Bill to see that existing provision repealed and a new section inserted in its place? I ask the Minister to clarify that when he replies.
How many prosecutions have taken place under the existing legislation? What do the officials who drafted the legislation feel constitute "all reasonable precautions"?
While I do not agree with everything Deputy Mattie McGrath has said, if this legislation is enacted and becomes law, as appears likely, I agree on the urgent need for the Minister to deal with the long waiting list for people awaiting a driving test. I have obtained figures - Deputy Munster cited figures yesterday - showing that in some instances it takes in excess of 28 weeks for someone to get a test. That is certainly not fair and not appropriate. We should consider having a maximum time limit. The RSA must provide a deadline, for example two weeks or four weeks, within which somebody will be offered a test. That will help prevent people falling victim of this new penalty.
While I did not see it, I believe a programme was broadcast the other night showing how some people are manipulating the test process. They are applying for a test in order to extend their provisional licences. They do not turn up for the tests and are getting a bye - for want of a better word - allowing them to extend their licences. That is not right and not fair on the people who are genuinely waiting to have their driving tests conducted because these people do not turn up which is a wasted opportunity. In addition they knowingly continue to drive on the road with a provisional licence without having passed the test. Irrespective of whether we care to admit it, everybody driving a bus, car or motorbike should have passed a test to certify them as fit to drive.
I ask the Minister to clarify if the section 39 to be repealed is being replaced with a new amendment and, if that is the case, we can talk to that amendment as we go through Report Stage.
There is a sense of déjà vuin this debate, particularly the very lengthy start made regarding recommittal to Committee Stage, because we thought approximately one year ago that section 39 of the 2016 Act was in order, signed by the President and would be commenced. There is no question but that amendment No. 29, which the Minister has tabled, is a comprehensive attempt to finally address the issue of unaccompanied drivers. It is a couple of years since a former Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, gave me information on the number of fatal and serious injury collisions involving unaccompanied drivers from 2012 to November 2016. In 2012 there were seven fatal and 22 serious collisions; in 2013, there were four fatal and ten serious collisions; in 2014, there were eight fatal and 32 serious collisions and in 2015, there were 16 fatal and 24 serious collisions. Up to that time in 2016, in October or November, there had been seven fatal and 24 serious collisions. A total of 49 people have died on our roads this year up to last Monday. If in any other area of transport there were 160 or 170 deaths in a single incident, there would be a major investigation and public inquiry. Due to the nature of road traffic crashes, with one or two people being killed or injured week after week, we in this House do not take the number so seriously.
There are people in the Visitors Gallery tonight who have suffered at the hands of unaccompanied drivers, the subject of the Clancy amendment or section 39 of the 2016 Act, including the representatives of Promoting Awareness Responsibility and Care, PARC, Ms Susan Gray and her son Steven, who lost a husband and father due to a crash involving an unaccompanied learner driver. I also welcome Fiona and Noel Clancy, as well as Louise Doyle. Alec Lee cannot be with us tonight. I agree with Deputy Catherine Murphy that the tenor of the debate last night was disrespectful to the families who have suffered and the tens of thousands of victims of road traffic crashes. It is incumbent on some of those who spoke to remember the incredibly sensitive nature of what has happened and which has traumatised families. These main amendments, and others that Deputy Troy tabled but which seem to have been ruled out of order, seek to remedy an intolerable situation and to try to bring that suffering to an end. Steven Gray was outside this House when he was a little boy asking us to address this issue and here we are finally in 2018 on the cusp, I hope, of doing that.
I listened at great length last night to our colleagues representing Kerry and Tipperary. I know south Kerry fairly well, as the Deputies Healy-Rae know. They mentioned the closure of The Shebeen, the famous pub in Lauragh. I thought also of Bunaw in Kilmakilloge, where Teddy O’Sullivan's bar, a good local hostelry, is still going strong. Rural life is continuing. The bottom line, however, is that 81% of road fatalities are in rural Ireland. Drink-driving is an issue for rural Ireland that we must address. I have always been very sympathetic to supported public transport for rural Ireland. One can take too dismal a view of the situation. I am also familiar with Deputy Mattie McGrath's constituency, having been a couple of times camped in the great town of Clonmel during famous by-elections when I was canvassing for my former party.
The arguments for the 50 mg to 80 mg drink-driving level are pretty overwhelming. Many of the studies we have seen show that people's capacity starts to decline after 20 mg. International studies are pretty conclusive on the point that having drink taken, when one's senses are impaired, is a serious deficiency in respect of operating machinery such as a car. That there are 180 arrests every week for drink driving bears out the fact that we must seek to address this issue. That is why it is right that we have recommitted this Bill to address the key elements that have not been addressed by this House and the Government. We should proceed with the business and go through these amendments as quickly as we can.
I have spoken at great length on this Bill on more than one occasion and am glad to have the opportunity to speak on it again, although more amendments have been made. Further difficulties will be inflicted on the people who live in rural Ireland if the Bill is passed in its current form.
When I entered the discussions on the programme for Government - and I stayed quite a long time, maybe until the evening before the Government was formed - the Minister was involved too, there was an agreement that the Government would introduce rural-proofing. The last Government was absolutely hammered in rural Ireland and it was obvious that was because it turned its back on it. The promise then was that to try to appease several rural Deputies, it would rural-proof all policies coming before the people in future. I did not believe it and that is why I did not support the Government. Thankfully my judgment was right, although it may not always be. When I discussed this Bill before Christmas, I asked the Minister what rural-proofing was put in place and he had no answer. He said he spoke to the Irish Farmers Association, IFA, and a few others. I did not ask him to whom he spoke. He spoke to me and to the country. What did he put in place to try to at least alleviate the difficulties this Bill is going to cause for people who live in rural Ireland?
Deputy Broughan says rural Ireland is going strong. He is in Dublin and I would be very slow to tell him how things are going in Dublin because I would not be fully sure of how they are. I certainly know how they are going in rural Ireland because I come from west Cork. I am proud of where I come from. I am proud to stand here and tell the Minister how people feel about this Bill because I have spoken to them. I took time out during the previous discussions to make sure, in case I was taking the wrong direction. We are human, we can make mistakes but I have not met anybody who told me I was wrong on this issue. They ask why this Bill is going through in its current form and now the Minister is criminalising parents.
Where is the Minister going? In the name of God, what has possessed him? What is wrong? He spoke to me before I ever entered Dáil Éireann and asked me to consider joining his party. I spoke to him about rural issues and he agreed with me that they needed to be tackled. He did not agree with me that he would further complicate matters and further ruin people's lives in rural Ireland. Why did he not explain that to me? I have met people that the Minister has met recently and is going to meet, throughout Munster in particular, about joining his party. Excuse me, the Minister is in a group, not a party. I asked them what they think and they are not impressed. It is over as far as they are concerned. Anyway, the Minister can go ahead and meet them. He met me and thankfully I did not join his party. I would be like more of them, drifting away now one by one. The Minister has turned his back on the people here. He did not rural-proof this Bill.
I have no intention of standing up here and criticising him only I am telling the truth and talking on behalf of the people I love. They are the people I represent in west Cork. There might be a few of them who support the Minister but they certainly are not coming to me. I do not see the Deputies in government here supporting the Minister at any time. When this Bill has been discussed, the Government benches have been empty the whole time. Down deep, they do not agree with the Minister. They have to toe the line because they want to stay in government. They are not here. If they were, they would be sitting behind the Minister. I do not expect to have a full House but at least some of them could be here.
The Minister may continue on because he is determined in what he is doing. Why did he not look at how we could alleviate the situation with young people and driving licences? I come from a very rural community and there is no public transport as such. There is a bus in the morning and one in the evening. The car has to be the means of transport. I have a load of young people including members of my own family who want to have a driving test. They cannot have one. Why did the Minister not at least solve the driving test issue, so that people could book a driving test and know they would have it within a month or two? He did not do so because he had no intention of rural-proofing the Bill. He did not proof it at all. He came up with an idea and here he is floating it. He is criminalising good, hard-working parents who are in a very difficult situation. They are trying to work. By God, it is difficult to survive, whether in rural or urban areas. The Minister is treating them like criminals when it is quite questionable what he is at. He did proof this or intend to try to resolve one issue before moving on.
Could the Minister have looked at having speed limiters fitted in cars that young people are driving? Perhaps that was the road he should have travelled. We would all be quite understanding of that. No, that was not to be thought of. We will do it the heavy-handed way. As Deputy Troy said a while ago, there is a law there already. How many people have been brought before the courts in respect of that law? That is an important question and the Minister might answer it later. According to him, quite a lot of people are breaking the law so we need to find out how many have been brought before the courts.
The Minister has taken the easy way out. Too many collar-and-tie boys, pencil pushers may have been driving him along. The Minister has turned his back on areas where he could have helped to save lives. He should look at the appalling condition of our roads. They are in a dreadful state. I brought the Minister down to west Cork last year and he visited eight projects. All eight groups are still waiting for a response and they have not got that yet. I cannot chance taking him down any more. One of the roads he did travel was between Ballydehob and Bantry. I was in the car with him and we got a fair tossing. Not one thing has happened to that road since he sat in that car and the back of it walloped off the ground. I know the Minister cannot be responsible for every pothole in Ireland but he certainly was inside that car. To think I was talking to a gentleman the other day who goes to work every morning and said that if he does not travel on the other side of that road, the tools in the back of his van will end up in the front. That is the N71 road and it is in such an appalling condition that it should be closed. If there was any understanding of health and safety, that road should be closed officially to traffic. No, it is open. If it was a young person driving unaccompanied, the parents would face jail, but there is no-one going to face anything here. They can be tossed off the road, two or three can be killed, move on, so what? The same happened before.
During Storm Ophelia, trees killed three people. Was there any report from the Minister's office? I mentioned it a number of years back in the council. I said there should be a report drawn up by each local authority about roadside trees. I mentioned it several times in this Chamber. I have not heard the Minister saying it is a serious issue. Let us bring that before the House in a road traffic Bill and I will support the Minister. I know it would help save lives. Sadly, that is not the case. It is only a few lives. It does not sell newspapers or give people a chance to fill out their columns about what they are doing and what they are not doing.
When he was a Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív brought in provisions about the night-time bus service. Some people called it the booze bus and they all call it different things. Actually that was what I call rural-proofing. Why did the Minister not bring in something like that so that people would be collected from the public house at night? There would be funding set aside for that. That would have been a move in some direction in respect of tackling this issue. From start to finish, the whole thing lacked any bit of rural-proofing. I do not think rural Ireland is in the Minister's brief. If it is, I certainly would like to see it. What has the Minister done in this Bill that will help create an easier life and not put extra stress on people who are already stressed to the very limit. Our young people are reaching the age of driving and there is no public transport service. By God, if we want to pay for a public transport service in rural Ireland we know what we will pay and young people cannot afford it. They are trying to work hard by night and at weekends. They are trying to pay for their college and begging their parents to work with them to try and get a car. It is just the ordinary basic moves for a young person growing up. Their parents are paying €4,000 or €5,000 for insurance and maybe €2,000 for a car. The Minister puts this Bill in front of them to criminalise them, just in case he has not punished them enough and the Government has not got them cornered enough in rural Ireland. It will chase them out of there one way or the other. How can anyone consider putting a parent in jail for trying to help his or her child?
I urge the Minister to think again. I ask him to step back from this. A lot of Ministers and politicians are famous for a lot of things in their time but I do not think he will want to be famous for what is going on here. I am only talking on behalf of the people of west Cork. I certainly do not have anyone in my offices telling me that the Minister is right in the move he is making or that they are delighted with him. Absolutely not. They are telling me to stand up and are giving out to me, even though I told them there is no more I can do. They are telling me I am not doing enough and that I should get the Minister out of office straight away. I say I cannot but that is the view of the people of west Cork. I bring their views to the floor of Dáil Éireann and am proud to do so.
The Minister must find money for our roads. I do not like a situation where a beautiful village like Leap is full of holes or where in a beautiful village like Drimoleague in west Cork I could lose part of my wheel because of holes in the road. I tried to show the Minister the road between Rosscarbery and Clonakilty.
Perhaps 20 or 30 trees fell across that road during the storm. Thank God nobody was killed. The back of my car slipped on that road recently, and I had four good tyres under it. Nothing is happening. People are frustrated with the amount of driving they have to do. They are spending hours in cars travelling through west Cork. It should be the same as travelling into Dublin, where there are beautiful passing bays and flyovers. We should not be treated like second class citizens. As long as I am in Dáil Éireann I will raise these issues, and I assure the Minister that the people of rural Ireland will never forget him because of this Bill. Any poor, unfortunate Deputy sitting with him will be thought of in the same way.
I ask the Minister again to rural proof this Bill. He should go back to the drawing board and sit down with the people who know how people are suffering in rural Ireland, who know the pain that is out there and the difficulties people are facing. He should not further their difficulties but rather work through the issues with those people. There certainly have to be controls, but people should not be threatened with jail sentences on this issue. That is what the Minister has done. I will stand by rural Ireland for as long as I am here. I do not like it when Deputies from Dublin tell me that rural Ireland is going strong. They should come down and look at The Bridge Bar in Ballylickey, which closed with the loss of ten jobs only a couple of months ago, thanks to the Minister. The lady who ran the pub had a bus to take her customers home every night to make sure that none of them drove. They could not even drive the next morning. She said they could not go to mass on a Sunday morning with the worry. She shut her doors, and many more premises have been shut in west Cork in recent times. Rural Ireland is not going well. It is going through a very difficult period. It needs assistance and help. It does not need further condemnation, criminalisation and finger pointing. The Minister must stop the pencil pushers from the top from telling people in rural Ireland how to live their lives. He should look at the Constitution and stand by it. If not, he should stand down.
This is another attack on rural Ireland. It has been drawn up by the Road Safety Authority, as I understand it, working together with the Minister. I have dealt with some of the Minister's officials on other issues and I must compliment them on that. I listened to the radio today on my way here, and I heard about people who are running men's sheds around the country which are struggling for funding. The men's sheds might have offered people some hope, but with this Bill they will be unable to get to them. They have nowhere to go now. Deputies have been throwing mud at people across the floor of this House. We all sympathise with people who have lost their lives on the roads, but the statistics show that many of the drivers in question were two, three or four times over the limit. The statistics speak for themselves.
It is sad to say, to a person who is supposed to be an Independent Deputy as well as a Minister, that the Minister has single-handedly achieved this over the last two years. The workers in rural Ireland will be moving on, because while there might be cranes almost hitting each other in Dublin, there are no cranes to be seen in the skies of rural Ireland. In my part of the world, and in the places the Deputies across the floor of the House come from, the options for people are the boat or the plane. That is the scenario in parts of rural Ireland. We hear of an upswing, and in parts of the country that is true. However, pubs are closing. There was a so-called deal for postmasters, where the Government did not force them to close but left them with very little choice, and which pinpointed who is going to get the money to buy out the post offices. Neighbours and the community will blame the postmaster for leaving in that situation, while some post offices outside that scheme will continue to operate. It is cute-hoorism and good PR. The people have been sold a pup once more. The Irish Postmasters' Union, IPU, is also being sold a pup.
There is a real problem with health across Ireland. One might hear people giving out about the HSE, among other things, but for some reason, whatever type of magic he is able to conjure, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, is able to avoid the criticism. However, we hear it day in and day out about the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and what he is doing to rural Ireland. It is easy in Dublin to get a bus until at least 12 o'clock at night, or a taxi at any hour of the night. There are not too many taxis around on the byroads of rural Ireland. A kite was flown in the media that the Government might give a rebate on the vehicle road tax to publicans to make them feel good. Another kite was flown then which suggested that 33 or 35 buses would be provided. That would not even provide a bus for every council area, when one considers that there are parts of Dublin that are rural as well. This will amount to nothing but promises; the legislation will go through and that will be the end of it.
In parts of rural Ireland there are daycare centres for people who suffer from mental illness which are being closed. There is a constant pressure on such resources. I have just come from the Joint Committee on Rural and Community Development, where the Minister for Rural and Community Development, Deputy Ring, was speaking. In fairness to him, Deputy Ring has probably the smallest budget and is looking after the biggest part of the country. He listened to us. He is anxious to get more money.
Deputy Michael Collins pointed out that the roads are in a terrible state at the moment. How many accidents are caused by the state of our roads? Has more funding gone into fixing the problem? A few percent every year, perhaps. Most councils have 40% less funding now than they had in 2008 or 2009. Accidents are happening because of the state of our roads, but nothing is being done about it. There is a Bill with the Department seeking to help parts of Galway which were damaged by the storm. It caused damage to the seashore and flooding problems. The people there have received no money. It is fine to talk about it, but the attitude seems to be that those people should be left out because they are out in the sticks and do not matter. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport would not be too bothered if those people fell into the sea. Rural Ireland seems to be neglected.
People earn less than the average industrial wage in rural Ireland. Farmers earn €18,000 to €20,000. I am not saying that people need to be earning mega money to live in rural Ireland; it is obviously cheaper to build a house there. These people, however, are struggling. When they have families they try to provide education for their children to ensure that Ireland will be a better place and that their children will have a better life.
They cannot afford the €9,000 that I heard one college campus is increasing it to. They cannot afford to have the luxuries that some have. The get-out on that was that these people decided to buy a car for their children and they tried to insure it at an astronomical rate.
When they talked about accidents and young people, I proposed something that would solve much of that but neither the RSA nor anybody else would listen. Anyone who is familiar with lorries and has driven them over the years would know they have what is called a "speedo" which regulates the speed the driver can go. I wanted them to give those youngsters the opportunity to get insurance at the same rate as anybody else but to put a restriction on the speed they could drive at which would make it safer both for them and for other road users. If one talks to mechanics about the new types of cars, they will say this can be done through the computer to ensure the facility is available. However, we are not bothered about that. It might be trouble and would not be a good thing to bring down the cost of their insurance, I suppose. Therefore, the best thing we can do is crucify their mothers and fathers who bought that little car and taxed and insured it. We tell them that if the youngster is caught on the road, we will confiscate the car and the owner will be banged up for a while. Make a criminal out of them - that is the stuff. That is the way to treat Irish people, the good, decent people who work, have a normal life, do not break laws, do the best they can and try to rear youngsters and give them a better life then they had. However, every step of the way, we try to put a wall in front of them, we try to make sure we make bigger criminals out of them than the people who are criminals.
It is a sad Ireland when we look at some of the stuff that is coming in and the way we are heading. It makes me wonder at times where we are going as a country. Those youngsters are going to college. From where I live they can go to Athlone college. Is there a bus? No, there is not. Is there accommodation? No, there is not. Mammy and daddy, as well as trying to survive, will have to drive them up and down the road. The sad part is that when people look at rural Ireland, they will say there is a bus from Athlone to Roscommon, and one to Ballinasloe. However, is there one going to Creggs, Ballymoe, Athleague or places like that? No. It is the same in the south. These youngsters do not fly so someone has to pick them up. An understanding is required of the problems and obstacles put in front of people living in those areas.
Do we deprive these youngsters of an education? Through blood, sweat and tears their mothers and fathers will do everything they can for them, although, my God, the State is trying to make sure they will have to do what their predecessors did in many parts, in particular the west, that is, take the plane or the boat and go. Are we proud of that, as public representatives or as a nation?
I proposed two amendments to the Bill. The State is great at telling people it will bang them up in jail, fine them, confiscate the vehicle and do the devil and all. However, has the State a responsibility for anything? Has the State a responsibility to make sure some youngster who wants a driving test can get one within a minimum of six weeks? If the State is not able to do that, in my opinion the State has failed. I have looked at the records concerning driving testers, which are abysmal. There were parliamentary questions on this issue and the devil and all was going to be done. Was it done? The current statistics show the waiting lists in different parts of the country are phenomenal. Are we going to step back and decide that if we, as a State, are not able to do this, we are not going to crucify someone without giving them a chance?
Another proposal I raised fell on deaf ears. There are places like Mondello Park where a machine driver driving different types of equipment can do an intensive course and get a certificate to ensure the driver is safe and can then do the test after that. A system like that would be too easy. This is the type of thinking outside the box we need. It was the same with the regulations on towing a trailer behind a car. If drivers had the test before a certain date, they could back a trailer anywhere, but if it was after that date, they had to jump into the back of a lorry and press a button 35 times and, afterwards, get so many lessons. On top of that, we had to make sure we robbed people in order to give them a piece of paper for a trailer they had been towing for 20 years before that. That is good, fair thinking. That is a real progressive State.
What signal are we sending to these youngsters? Are we sending them an obstacle course or are we going to give them encouragement? Is there anything wrong with having places in the east, west, north and south of the country where they could go for a two-day intensive course to get them on the road and to make sure they are safe, and then to guarantee them a test within six weeks? However, we do not want to do that. We want to turn them around and tell them that if they are caught on the road, they will not have their licence - we promise them that - daddy and mammy will face a judge and probably end up in the jail and, by the way, they will not have the car either because we will confiscate it, and we will fine them good and heavy. The military state and heavy-handedness - that is the way to bring people forward.
It is a sad thing to say but some of the ways we are going about this are disgusting. The Minister should do this by encouraging people, not by the heavy hand. He should make sure he brings people with him, especially youngsters. I watch them week in, week out, and the way they behave and operate is a credit to them. We should be there to help them and give them every opportunity we can.
As was said earlier in regard to pubs, it all kicks back the following morning. I got a text this morning that the traffic corps was in a certain spot. They are doing their job and I am not saying there is anything wrong with them being there. The problem is that a lot of the understanding is gone. In England if a lorry travelling up one of the motorways has a crack in the spring - the Acting Chairman will know what I am talking about - the driver will be given 14 days to fix it. Here, the law would make sure to put €750 of a problem on top of that, with penalty points and everything else. I can promise that a crack in a spring, with ten leaks, would never do any harm, and I drove them as much as anybody.
That is the way we have gone. We seem to bring things in without understanding them. I spoke to a person who hauls cattle. They took the commercial vehicle test. Two minor issues arose, but everything else was sound. There was no serious defect. However, because the test had been failed and he had to pick up a load of cattle, he had to rent a low loader in Limerick and spend €700 or €800.
The way we go about this really frustrates me. We need to encourage people. Everyone is for safety. Nobody wants to see anybody getting hurt or killed, but there is a sense of aggression in the way that some measures are brought in. The frustration people experience and the hopelessness in the faces of people who are struggling is what is intolerable about this. Whoever wrote some of this stuff should go out and spend a while in the areas it is affecting. That applies to the quality of the roads too. One needs to live in an area to know its needs, and unfortunately a lot of our Departments are based in the middle of a city. While they might understand the M50 and its problems, and the different roads leading out of Dublin, when one goes north, south east or west it is different.
These people try to make a living. They are part of Ireland. They are part of an economy. Most of them are reliant on driving, for the simple reason that a lot of them drive 40 or 50 miles to work. That is because there is no bus or train. In some of these areas there are not even taxis.
Before sanctions are introduced, in my view, solutions must be brought in to facilitate change. We must try to make sure that people can still do their work and can get from A to B. One of the Deputies who spoke yesterday evening spoke about a young apprentice who had to give up work. A lot of people do not understand the implications of something that stops people from getting to work, because of changes in the rules around learner drivers or because a mother and father are under threat of confiscation of a car, jail or fines. What happens to most of those affected? They have two choices. They can head for Dublin, where they will not get a bed. Or unfortunately, most of them head for London or Canada. Then we read stories years later; we think we are great Irish patriots, celebrating St. Patrick's Day in England and other countries. At the same time, it is us and our generation that might have hounded them all out.
Unfortunately, during the recession we lost 250,000 of them because of bad practices. We are now driving more out, though they are doing their level best. Some of these parents have a mortgage. They are doing their best. They might have one or two children going to college. The Minister knows as well as I do what the fees in the large cities are like. Certainly the likes of Athlone Institute of Technology and Institute of Technology, Sligo have great facilities. There are facilities in Galway and for people living in other parts of the country. It is fine for someone living in Drumcondra. They can shoot up the road. They can nearly walk to college. That is great. However, some of these people are 40 or 50 miles from the nearest places to go to school.
A lot of people are afraid to open their mouth about Bills at this stage. People need to understand that everyone is for safety. Everyone sympathises with anybody that has lost a loved one. However, we need to look at the statistical facts. We need to look at what are the reasons for accidents. We need to know that in the cases of over 60% of people who have accidents, absolutely no drinking was involved. We also need to know that most - I think it is 95% of accidents - are caused by driver error. No-one tolerates that. I am not tolerating that. This started off as one Bill, and like a rolling stone it is gathering bits on the way. A provision about learner drivers has now been thrown into it.
The Minister needs to take a step back and look at where he is going. I fear for the obstacles that are put in front of youngsters in rural parts of Ireland. I will ask the Minister for one thing. I have tabled this request as an amendment. I know the Government is moving an amendment so that cars are not confiscated. I want clarity on something. Does the amendment provide that if the authorities cannot give people a test within six weeks, the car will not be confiscated and the mother and father will not be liable for any prosecution? I have read the amendment that the Government has tabled. I am open to correction, but by my reading it appears only to address the concern about confiscation. I am open to clarification on that. We need to be fair to people. While we are bringing in laws on one side, we need to make sure that on the other side the State meets its obligation to make sure that those people are provided for.
I would like to very sincerely thank Deputy Eamon Ryan for facilitating me in speaking before him, because I have an engagement scheduled that I cannot get out of. I just wanted to provide an update following the contribution I made on this Bill last night. I suppose every person in this Chamber is busy and has a lot to do. Definitely when a person is a Minister he or she an extra workload arising from that portfolio. I must admit, however, that having received so many emails and text messages, and hearing from people in all the different ways they can make contact, I never realised until today that people listen to so much of what goes on here in the Dáil. What I am getting to is that whatever I said here last night, I got a reaction not only from County Kerry but from all over the country. People say that what I said was correct, and that the arguments that I made were reasonable and plausible, not outlandish or outrageous. The reason I am on my feet is to relay what the messages say: that the Minister should look at what is being proposed again.
I am awfully conscious of this. There are other things going on in rural Ireland for which the Minister could never be blamed. In no way could they be placed at the door of the Minister. There are other issues that were there before him, and there would be problems there if he never became the Minister. However, what he is doing in this legislation is compounding a problem that is already there. That is what people have been saying to me all day. I only came down from my office to take the opportunity to give this message. The amount of messages I have received is absolutely frightening. As I say they do not just come from County Kerry, but from all over this country. People tell me for God's sake to keep doing what I am doing. They mean the people who stood up here last night, on our own, including Deputy Mattie McGrath. There were six people who stood last night looking to have a vote. We were let down by the major parties.
We were assisted by some Independent Deputies and let down by many others, including some whom we helped previously. When they wanted help and assistance, we did not let them down but they let us down last night.
My eyes were opened today when I saw the reaction and realised a massive swell of people are worried about the future. They are concerned that this legislation will drag us into a place we do not want to be, namely, one in which young people will not want to live because of the terror caused by what will be needed to learn to be a driver and go out on the road. A perfectly sensible and law-abiding person who goes out and has a couple of pints, arranges transport home and needs to get up in the morning for work will also feel terror about failing a breath test the following morning because he or she may have drunk a small amount of alcohol the previous night. These are the worries and concerns people have. Our pleas may be falling on deaf ears but I would like to think they are not. I would like to think a certain person will realise there is a great deal of concern.
The one group of people who are not listening is other Deputies in this Chamber. I was brought up not to be critical. If I cannot say something good about another politician, I will seldom say something bad about him or her. I see other politicians who were elected by fine, honest-to-god people who are now completely ignoring those who sent them here to do a job. All around the Houses, Deputies who were elected to speak up for their constituents are now silent and are not present in the Chamber for this debate. Those who were here for last night's debate did not stand up to facilitate a vote and refused to do so when asked. Upon my soul, if they were standing up and I asked them to sit down, they would not do so, but they would not stand up for us last night. It does not make sense for them to ignore their electorate because people have a funny way of answering back. The electorate have the power to deny people the right to come to the Dáil. Some rural Deputies sent to the Dáil with a mandate to stand up for our way of life in rural Ireland are ignoring that mandate and being led by blind pipers. They are ignoring what is important, namely, the mandate given to them.
Many people are angry, upset and worried. The timing of this Bill is ironic. I have the exact figure on the number of postmasters and postmistresses in County Kerry who have been thanked by An Post for their services and told the company would be happy if they took a package and closed their doors.
Across the country, 390 postmasters and postmistresses have been told that while An Post will not close the door for them, it will give them money to close their doors themselves. They are being offered an incentive to shut post offices. Why am I mentioning post offices in a debate on a road traffic Bill? The Acting Chairman could try to shut me down on this issue but it is one that is closely related to the Bill because it is related to rural Ireland and keeping people living in rural areas. If one wants to live in a rural area, one cannot stay in a house or yard all the time. One has to move around every day to live, earn a wage, secure gainful employment, get an education or get on in the world. People in rural areas want to move around just as people in Cork, Dublin, Limerick and other places where various modes of transport are available want to move around. I never begrudged people in the cities anything. Did I ever criticise the billions of euro being spent in Dublin or argue that we wanted the same to apply in the rest of the country? No, but we would like basic infrastructure, including roads of an acceptable standard, train and airport services and buses to take elderly people to shops and collect their pensions and to take children to school. What we do not want is to have people attacking us. People in rural Ireland feel as if we are under attack.
When I refer to rural Ireland, I am not referring only to the countryside but also places such as Killorglin, Killarney and Kenmare. Others will argue that these towns are built-up areas but they are far from the main cities, airports and centres of employment. We need to survive, which means we must stand up for ourselves and we need to have politicians who will stand up in the Dáil and speak on behalf of the people.
It is sad when one looks at the big parties to see that Fine Gael is sound asleep and Sinn Féin, the Labour Party and all the rest seem to be blindly rowing in behind the Minister. It is shocking and beyond belief. Previous generations of politicians from these parties who have gone to their reward fought for rural Ireland. They would have had a boxing match over rural Ireland and would not have backed down from a row. There was many a good boxing match during elections and maybe it was no harm when one looks back on it. It was the way of life at the time and no one was seriously hurt in any case. They always fought their corner because they were fighters and they had to be a fighter to survive. In this world, one has to fight every day to survive and keep one's head above water.
When I speak of "we", I am referring to a small group of Deputies who are rebelling against this Bill and what it stands for. This legislation will not be the end of the story. People will see that the Government can get away with this. When the Minister and I are no longer here, other Ministers will conclude that because the Minister, Deputy Ross, got away with this legislation, they will be able to get away with doing something else. Where will it stop? We are asking that somebody listen to common sense.
Last night, I made a fair point, one which many people picked up on today, namely, that a Minister, long before any of us were elected to the Dáil, thought it was a great idea to do away with the rural rail network. That was a monumental error. Politicians from the party to which the Minister in question belonged are the first to admit today that the closure of the rural rail network was a mistake. It is too late when the horse has bolted, the legislation has been enacted and the changes have been made. If the legislation proceeds as proposed, there will be no going back and matters will only get worse.
Last night, I neglected to speak about a specific group of people, namely, publicans. I have to declare an interest, as I always do when I speak about matters such as this. I have a brother who is a publican and who, subsequent to my father, has run a respectable house. Every publican I know runs what I call a respectable house where he or she will refuse to serve a person who has had a drink too many. There is an automatic barrier or lawmaker in the pub, namely, the man or woman dispensing the drink. Publicans are the guards and adjudicators of what is right and wrong. They want to run respectable houses and hold on to their licences. They do not want to sully their excellent reputation for providing a service and they have never done so. All the publicans I have had the pleasure of knowing and dealing with over the years have run impeccable premises. This means people can say they never hurt anybody or allowed a person to leave their pubs and get into a car when they were not fit to drive.
They never let a row start inside a pub which they did not stop themselves. They never let something happen outside the door of their public house because they felt responsible and were the law-makers keeping public order at all times. When one sees the culture of drinking now where the publican is being removed from the picture, a person can buy a bag of drink where there is no measure and no dispensing. Whereas a shot of Paddy in a public house is a measured amount and whereas a publican will monitor how much a person is drinking, when someone has bought drink in an off-licence and drinks in a private house, the serving can be an entire glass. That is why one sees so many fights and murders late on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights in such circumstances as people overindulge in the absence of such a thing as a measure. There is no such thing as a monitor. The guardian of the measure of the drink is gone. Being a proper publican is a vocation. It is like a trade. Publicans are dedicated to their service. When we lose them and the door of the pub closes, a whole way of life is lost. The younger generation coming up, who might have kept the door open, do not have that opportunity because their parents had to close the pub. Why did they have to close it? It is because of Governments and Government decisions. It is very wrong.
I am not a good person to travel because I do not like to go abroad. Any time I was outside Ireland and around Europe and I went into what is called a café bar, I experienced the most soulless, empty, cold, damp and depressing places into which any human being could ever have had the misfortune to go. They had plastic seats, plastic tables and all the horribleness that goes with them. I compare that to an Irish pub where the first thing that hits one when one goes in is a blast of heat from a fire or some other mechanism to keep the place warm. The first thing one will see is a friendly, smiling face behind the counter. One will meet nice people with stories to tell and conversations to have. We are losing all of that because of regulation and legislation like the Bill under discussion tonight.
We speak here about mental illness and depression. One of the major causes of depression, isolation and upset in people's minds is the fact of people being on their own. I know people who go to the public houses in their communities and the last thing on their minds is a drink. What they want is to go in and talk about what they were doing that day whether it was farming, a trip to the mart or a visit to the creamery where they heard a funny story which they want to relate. There might have been a funeral and they may want to lament the passing of the person who is dead. Someone might be pregnant or a child may have been born and they might want to talk about that. They want to talk about what is going on in their community. It is a source of jollity for them with all of the blackguarding and honest-to-God ball-hopping about politics, football, courting and everything else that goes on. All of that will be lost. When it is gone, it is gone forever.
During the recent spell of cold weather, many people were thanked for what they did and rightly so. I refer to fire brigade members, local authority workers, ambulance personnel and gardaí. One group of people who were not thanked but which was very important were our local publicans. People who had not been to their local pub for a long time went there in the ice and snow because they could walk to it. The publicans provided a great service and people had time to engage and have a bit of fun among themselves despite the bad weather. Where will they go if the pubs are closed in future?
It is no exaggeration to talk about the number of pubs which have closed. At one time, Cahersiveen had 52 pubs. One could have gone to a different pub every week and been barred but not have had to try to get back in for 12 months. One can be sure that there are not 52 pubs there now. Killorglin had between 36 and 38 pubs at one time but it does not have them now. We are losing a great deal in towns and villages. What are we going to finish up with? Is it these horrible, soulless café bars about which I told the Minister earlier?
Will the only place in which we can buy a drink be an off-licence? That is awful. It will be a sorrowful day for Ireland if that comes to pass. It would be very poor of me to fail to record that.
I refer finally to our young people. What, in the name of God, will come of them if they cannot get the start? People say they should take lessons and pass the driving test. How can they pass the test when they cannot get called for the test? I thank the testers and instructors in Kerry and compliment them on the service they provide. However, they will be the first people to tell one that they need help. They need more resources and to be given the capacity to work longer hours for which they are compensated. The backlog is an emergency situation. Why should young people be told they are committing a criminal offence by driving without a full licence when they are being told on the other hand by another arm of the State they must go on a waiting list to do the driving test and will be called when they are called. That is not good enough. That is not acceptable. It is not young people's fault. All a young person wants to do is go to college and work and earn some money on a part-time basis. Young people need that money desperately. There are pressures on young people today that we did not experience when we were starting out. Every young person deserves the right to life in the first instance, which it is no harm to record again tonight, and the right to live that life then in the same way as the rest of us. That means they should get their driving licence when they want it and get on the road in their cars when they want to. Why should we criminalise them for doing that? That is compounded by the emergence of the fact that the person who owns the motor car could finish up as a common criminal. My goodness, where are we going?
It is one thing to direct these comments to the Minister, Deputy Ross, but we must also talk about those who work in officialdom, who went along with all of this and who did not cry stop. That is wrong. There are excellent people working in the Department as I know because I deal with them a great deal. They have great ability. However, there are civil servants hiding among the mandarins of the Department who seem to think they can close their eyes to this rather than to express concern. There are two Irelands. These are, respectively, the places we represent, which have it tough and which struggle to survive, and the places that have everything at their fingertips.
I do not want to go on too long. I thank Deputy Eamon Ryan of the Green Party with which I do not always agree for doing me the courtesy of facilitating me tonight. I will repay the compliment sometime. I ask that what I have said is noted. If the Minister saw the number of contacts with me on foot of last night's debate, it would be frightening. It is hard to believe until one sees it. I will show him the number any time. If he saw what I did, he would note that, my God, there is a significant group of people out there who are extremely upset and worried by this Bill, what it contains, what it means for the future and what will come after it. That is the big question. Like last night, tonight will be remembered for a long time.
I was happy to yield to Deputy Michael Healy-Rae and listen to him. His question about what kind of place young people will want to live in is valid. It is the key question for all those in terms of what we are doing in the Dáil. It is as much an issue for urban Deputies as it is for rural Deputies. Politics is central to answering that question and getting it right, both in rural and urban Ireland.
When somebody doubts the power or use of politics, asking what good it does, I always show some practical examples. The most important one for me is what has happened with the number of road deaths in this country over the past 40 years. In the mid-1970s, up to 500 people a year were killed on our roads. Everyone knows the utter tragedy and complete devastation for a family which suffers a fatality through a road accident. Last year, 159 people were killed on our roads. While it is 159 too many, it is significantly lower than the 500 some 40 years ago. Not all of this is down to politics. Much of it is due to road standards and regulations concerning safety belts, for example. However, even the introduction of the safety belt was a political decision. It took Ralph Nader in the United States to take on the power of General Motors, Ford and other car companies to insist they were not thinking safety when they built their cars. It was also due, over many years involving many parties, to political decisions around changing our laws on drink-driving and speed, as well as introducing measures in urban areas such as speed ramps and restrictions. Only last week, we introduced the new 30 km/h limit in Dublin. It has been a continuous slow and tortuous battle to address the tragedy in which 159 people die each year on our roads. It has taken political decisions and commitment, often unpopular decisions, for us to be able to do that.
I am not happy, however, that we are doing enough. There was a protest tonight outside Leinster House organised by the Dublin Cycling Campaign. My first priority now would be creating safe spaces on our roads. Our whole system is completely antithetical to the safety of cyclists and pedestrians. For example, if we are going to complain about things, I will cite the fact the cycling budget for Dublin City Council was halved when the number of cycling fatalities doubled. I cannot understand why we are not putting money into cycling facilities in this and every other city. This is too sore an issue to speak about at this stage because a cyclist died last week in Dublin. However, not only would it protect people’s lives and improve safety but it would transform the urban environment in a way which would make Dublin thrive and be an incredible city in which to live.
I know Deputy Michael Collins’s area in west Cork. I would also like to see priority given to ensuring a short time for people to get their driving tests in order they are not on the road as learner drivers for too long. We must encourage this and put resources into it. I wish such a measure was in this Bill. Like Deputies Michael Collins and Fitzmaurice, as well as others, I too would love to see a real transformation to ensure we have rural bus services. It is not impossible. Deputy Harty will know that in west Clare there were good community bus services. Although they were not perfect, they were experimental and were a good example of what could be done if resourced properly and we were ambitious enough to go the extra yard. Those sorts of initiatives should be at the centre of providing alternatives of having to drive.
I have to accept the Minister, the Road Safety Authority and others have done the analysis and feel there is further room for tackling drink-driving. We have to support it. We cannot say we want all these other measures but we will not support the initiative in question. The Deputies from the Rural Independent Group claim this will have particular consequences for people in rural Ireland because they have to drive long distances and do not have a public transport alternative. This brings difficulties just like some of the other decisions over the past 40 years which helped us reduce road deaths. I still support it because politicians should be committed to bringing that figure down to zero. That should be our aim.
To highlight how this is particularly a rural issue, the 159 people who died last year - God bless every one of them and their families - would fill this Chamber. If one includes the clerk and the parliamentary reporter - I apologise for including them in the proceedings – there are 159 of us in this Chamber, making it representative of that population. There are five Deputies from Kerry, each one of them welcome. However, eight people from Kerry died last year on our roads. There are five Deputies from Tipperary, but, similarly, eight people from Tipperary died on our roads. I do not know if Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice is the only Member from Roscommon, but four people from Roscommon were killed on our roads last year. There are five Deputies from Mayo but 12 people from Mayo died in traffic accidents last year. If one adds those four counties together, we would fill this entire section of the Chamber. This is an issue for rural Ireland that we have to address.
Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked how we can make rural Ireland a place where young people will want to live. We have the exact same question in urban Ireland. My 19-year-old son asked a simple question the other day. He asked me how much of a multiple of our income our house price was when I bought it back in 1997. It was three times my and my wife’s incomes. He asked what it would be today. We replied it would be eight times. Every young person in Dublin is asking how they can live in this city. That is a cutting crucial question for them. Similarly, I am terrified for my son’s safety when he is cycling around this city. How can we make it a safe place for him? The same question has to be asked for rural Ireland.
I believe we need to go full steam in addressing that question to ensure young people in rural Ireland have accessibility. It also has to be safe. It was not that long ago that it felt safe to walk down a country road in rural Ireland. Increasingly, it does not today. Could we not set that ambition? Deputy Michael Healy-Rae said that during the snow, people actually walked to the local pub. It was the same in Dublin and everywhere else around the country. With the snow, we instantly went back 50 years to the sense of community and connection to local small places because we were not dependent on the car and no one could drive. Can we not do that across all of Ireland, where it would be safe to walk down a country road?
Maybe in every single town for as far as we can, we put in footpaths. Let us put the money into that because 30 pedestrians died last year, often on those dark country roads. Are we going to create an Ireland where a person cannot walk along a country road? Is that where we want to go or should we set a different objective whereby these are walking roads and we will make them safe by design?
I listened to Deputy Michael Healy-Rae when he rightly noted that this issue is not only about the countryside but what happens to places such as Killorglin, Killarney and Kilgarvan or the other towns he mentioned. According to jar.ie, which I looked up while he was speaking, Killorglin has 14 pubs and a populations of 2,000. That is still a fair few. While Cahersiveen may have had 52 pubs in the past, according to my very quick research it now has a population of 1,168 and 23 pubs. Clonakilty with a population of 4,500 has 22 pubs. Let us look at which towns are working and why and how we can replicate that. I always use Clonakilty as an example because it is a town that is thriving. I like it as an example because it has its own mayor and I believe in restoring power back down to the local level. When a person does it in towns such as Clonakilty, it seems to work. They have 1,000 people working in the industrial estate there. The town is booming and I think that is partly because they have created an attractive urban centre which is very close to being pedestrianised. Killorglin is another town that I know that is very successful in having created a strong centre with all the vibrant pubs that go with it, because they bring life back to the centre. That is where I think young people will want to live.
I was deeply critical of the national planning framework because ultimately it failed. While it set out with very good objectives, these were abandoned to the extent that it says that 50% of new accommodation will be outside of existing urban areas. How are we going to create a system where, as the Minister rightly advises, people will not drink and drive but at the same time we place people out in sprawl? I do not think that will work. We need to use this opportunity holistically. It is not a question of Dublin versus the rest. It is about building up Carrigaholt or Ennistymon, the fantastic towns with fantastic urban pub culture. That is where we need our young people to be. That is where we need families to be. People can walk or cycle to school or to the local shops, and probably to the local GP whose clinic is probably in the town centre, and they can walk to the pub. Accommodation is cheaper than it would be in Dublin. There are loads of jobs that we could develop if we did it in a co-ordinated way in sectors such as tourism, energy, including forestry, food production and digital services, if we can connect the broadband. We must have a vision for rural Ireland and urban Ireland which is sustainable in every way. Included in that vision would be that this is a country that takes road safety most seriously and that it is a safe place. As part of this, it should have vibrant public transport in rural and urban areas. There would be an expectation that kids cycle to school. The statistics around cycling in Ireland are heartbreaking. One that shook me some years ago showed that in County Monaghan, to use one county as an example, more girls were driving themselves to secondary school than were cycling. Every rural school should be trying to make it safe again for children to cycle to school. I think that is the type of place that young people will want to live and raise families, because of the freedom that allows. Parents do not have to worry that their son or daughter will be safe when they cycle to school. We should go with road safety in everything. It should be part of the vision for creating a vibrant rural Ireland and a vibrant and safe urban Ireland too. It is not impossible. In the past 40 years we have gone from 500 to 159 deaths. In going to zero we could create vibrant rural and urban communities which are socially successful and where people want to live as well as being safer places. That is why I support this Bill and was pleased to be able to contribute to the debate.
The central part of this Bill is that it changes the penalty for the amount of alcohol a person can consume rather than the alcohol limits. Limits are there and they are important but they are being ignored and, as a result, drinking and driving is contributing to road deaths. I do not see it as an urban versus rural issue, nor merely an issue of pubs. It is a national issue. We should not create a situation where it is urban versus rural, which is too simplistic a view. The motivation behind the Bill is to save lives and avoid injury. It is important to bear in mind that multiples of the numbers who die on the roads are very seriously injured. It is an important point. We cannot just measure road safety by lives lost. It must be measured in those seriously injured as well.
The Bill provides a measure of safety not only to drivers but also to their passengers and other road users. I do not want to be on a road where there are people coming against me and behind me who are over the limit. I want to be on a road where people are safe and observe the rules of the road, including those relating to drink-driving. The debate has to be widened out from being one limited to rural issues and pubs.
The Bill is about changing people's attitudes to alcohol, which is important and necessary, especially in attitudes towards drinking and driving. We are making progress but it is important that people do not pass from 0 to 50 mg to 80 mg to 100 mg to 120 mg of alcohol in their blood. Everyone starts at 0. There is no doubt that people's driving ability is impaired the higher a person's alcohol level. The current legal level is 50 mg, which is a relatively generous level of alcohol to have in one's blood and not be found to be driving illegally. I contend that 50 mg of alcohol in one's blood does impair a person's ability to drive. However, this Bill is not speaking about levels of alcohol but about penalties. The penalty ought to be stronger. For people to lose their licence for three months is an advance and a reasonable goal.
Road safety measures are not restricted to drinking and driving. Deputy Eamon Ryan referred to the many different aspects of road safety, of which speed is one. He observed that some areas of Dublin have a speed limit of 30 km/h. Many roads in rural Ireland have speed limits which are far in excess of the limit at which it is safe to drive on them. There are many roads in rural Ireland which have speed limits of 100 km/h when a person could not do anything close to that. We need to re-examine how we decide on our speed limits. Road quality is another important factor. I agree with Deputies Michael Healy-Rae, Mattie McGrath and Danny Healy-Rae that some of our roads are in an appalling condition and contribute to accidents. The roads in my area are in serious need of repair.
That is an issue on which the Minister could concentrate. We also have the issue of roadworthiness. Again, that has improved with the obligatory testing of cars. We have also seen the obligatory wearing of seat belts. Seat belts are certainly a very important aspect of driving. I know very few people who would now not put on their seat belt before setting out and I know of many people whose lives have been saved by wearing their seat belts. We also talk about weather conditions. There are some roads in Ireland, some of our new motorways in fact, on which weather conditions seem to contribute to accidents over and above what would be expected for a motorway.
There are issues in respect of the ways in which some of our motorways have been constructed. Carelessness is an issue in road safety and tiredness is a huge issue. As a politician who drives almost 300 km twice a week to come to the Dáil, tiredness is a significant factor for me, for many politicians and for other people who are tired when they drive. We know of people in this House who died because of road traffic accidents related to tiredness.
We have spoken about inexperience, which is an important factor in road accidents. We have been speaking about learner drivers on provisional licences tonight. Young drivers are inexperienced and passing the test, which gives them the legitimacy of driving on their own, does not necessarily dispel their inexperience in driving. We have to recognise that point. When a person does not have a full licence, it is reasonable that he or she should drive with somebody who has experience and learn through the apprenticeship model.
Driving under the influence of alcohol, or under the influence of drugs which is increasingly an issue, is the focus of the central component of this Bill. Road safety is multifactorial. No one action brought about the fall in road deaths from 500 to fewer than 200. It was a result of many actions. We should continue to adjust all the components I have spoken about over the past few minutes to try to improve road safety. It must be remembered that a car is a lethal weapon. It can cause immense damage to the driver, the pedestrian, the passenger or the oncoming vehicle. Quite often that damage is inflicted on one's neighbours and friends because most accidents happen within a reasonable distance of the home.
This Bill comprises two important measures. It is a public health Bill on two counts. It prevents injury and death and it protects all road users. Road fatalities are not the only statistic against which we should measure road safety because every death on the road affects several hundred people. There is a ripple effect throughout the community and throughout the family. It is not just the unfortunate person who dies who is affected. Many people in families are affected. If one pays a visit to the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire, one will see the consequences of very serious road traffic accidents in which people have had life-changing injuries. That is very important for them, but also for their families. It has economic, social and psychosocial effects on those families. Therefore, this Bill is a public health measure for all.
This is also about the responsible consumption of alcohol. We all enjoy going out to our local pub for a drink, but one can go out and enjoy a drink in one's local pub without driving home. That is the issue. If a person consumes enough alcohol to put that person over the limit, he or she should not be driving home. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae talked about the conviviality of going to the pub, the craic, the conversation and the celebrations that are carried out in pubs. That is perfectly okay and perfectly legitimate. People should engage in that kind of social interaction, but they should not then get into a car and drive home. That is the issue. One can enjoy a visit to a pub without having to get into a car under the influence of alcohol and drive home, putting oneself and every other road user one comes across at risk.
Alcohol causes serious health issues. We are in the midst of a very serious crisis in respect of young people suffering very serious consequences from binge drinking, including medical consequences, particularly liver failure. There has been a change in Irish culture in the past 30 or 40 years. People who had liver failure used to be in their 60s or 70s. They were chronic abusers of alcohol. We are now seeing people in their 30s with liver failure due to the consumption of alcohol. While this Bill does not directly relate to that, it does touch on the fact that we consume too much alcohol in this society.
The issue was also raised that one can be very careful at night and get a taxi home or be driven home by a friend or the publican and yet the next morning one can be stopped at a checkpoint and found to be over the limit. It does not really matter whether one is over the limit at midnight or at 8 a.m., one is still over the limit and putting oneself and other road users at risk. It is a very spurious argument which has been put forward that people are afraid to drive in the morning. They justifiably should be afraid to drive in the morning if they are over the limit. If they are driving to work while over the limit, who are they putting at risk when they turn up to work if they are operating machinery or engaging in activities? The difficulty does not end if they actually get to work successfully. They are also putting their fellow workers at risk if they are under the influence of alcohol. I do not buy the argument that this Bill will prevent people from going to the pub at night because they are afraid they will have to go to work in the morning under the influence. That should not be the case.
It is like the smoking ban. The smoking ban was to be the end of the pub. Pubs would not survive if there was no smoking in them. Pubs are now far more enjoyable places to go to because one does not come out of them smelling as if one had just come out of an ashtray. The proposals in this Bill will not destroy the pub trade. I do not believe that.
I will refer to the issue of social isolation in rural areas, and perhaps also to social isolation in urban areas because one can be living in the middle of a housing estate in Dublin and not know one's neighbours on either side. The pub is certainly not the answer to rural isolation. I contend that the majority of people in rural Ireland do not go to the pub. Only a small minority of people in Ireland go to the pub. Not going to the pub is not going to increase social isolation in any way. Of course one can go to the pub and enjoy a few drinks provided one has a neighbour, friend or relative to bring one home.
Not everybody in rural Ireland drinks alcohol. In my village, the biggest card night of the week is held in our local community centre. It starts at 8 p.m. and finishes at 10.30 p.m. Everybody has a cup of tea and a sandwich. Some 70 people come and play cards. They enjoy themselves and they are home by 11 p.m. The card nights held in pubs start at 9 p.m., 9.30 p.m. or 10 p.m. and finish at 2 a.m. People tell me that they much prefer the card nights that are not related to alcohol. Of course one can go and play cards in a pub until the cows come home but one cannot then expect to drive home safely.
The issue of social isolation does not revolve around pubs. Many social activities do unfortunately revolve around pubs. Many sporting events are celebrated in a pub. If an under 13, under 14 or under 16 team win a local championship, the medals are presented in the pub. That is a very bad message to be sending to young people. It says that this is where celebrations take place. There are many aspects to rural Ireland which do not have to revolve around pubs. Rural society is much more resilient and does not have to depend on the pub culture to survive.
Rural Ireland has many issues and they have been referred to tonight. Trying to hold on to our young people in rural Ireland is a huge challenge. I went to the Youth Work Ireland open day in the Mansion House this afternoon and met young people from my own county, County Clare. They did not mention anything about going to pubs or drinking and driving. Their main issues were mental well-being, getting a part-time job, the bullying and cyberbullying to which they are subjected in school and outside school, their sexuality and rural transport. Deputy Eamon Ryan referred to the rural transport system that operates in County Clare. It still operates. Anyone coming to County Clare on holidays can get Clarebus from many locations in Clare. It is a wonderful service that is growing and expanding. Public transport was a big issue for young people today at the Youth Work Ireland open day. For example, how do they get from Ennistimon, Kilrush or Scarriff into Ennis or further afield? Their options can be limited. However, none of them brought up the issue of drinking and driving or being put off the roads. Ennistimon once had the reputation of having the highest number of pubs per population in Ireland. It had 49 pubs in its heyday, or a pub for every nine men, women and children. That has changed now. I am not sure how many pubs there are in Ennistimon but it is significantly fewer than that. What has happened in Ennistimon is that the café culture that was disparaged earlier has grown and there are more places to get a cup of coffee and a sandwich there than to get a drink. All these businesses have opened up and it has changed the atmosphere and the culture in towns such as Ennistimon.
One can go out and enjoy a drink, go out and enjoy oneself without a drink or go out and have one or two drinks. One does not have to exceed the legal limit to enjoy oneself, and many young people now have a different attitude to drinking and driving. This measure, I believe, is not directed at pubs or the licensed trade. Many people drink at home now; not everyone goes to the pub. One could be drinking at home or in a friend's house or go out to dinner and be over the legal limit driving home. It is not just that the alcohol is consumed in a pub; it may be consumed in a friend's house or at a function. However, it must be realised that anyone doing so must have someone to bring him or her home. One cannot drink and drive coming from those events. There is a popular myth that people can drive a little better when they have had a few pints, that they are more relaxed and their reactions are better. However, there is a direct correlation between the amount of alcohol one has in one's blood and one's reaction time. Whether one is driving on an urban or a rural road makes no difference: one's reaction times will be reduced. This is backed up by scientific evidence.
I therefore speak in support of the Bill. I am from rural Ireland. I just look at this problem from a different perspective, a different angle. From my personal experience, I have seen the devastation that deaths on the road bring to a family, particularly when alcohol is involved. Many young people have been damaged and seriously injured by drinking and driving on our roads, not only urban, but also rural, so I support the Bill.
The Deputy may come in as often as he likes for as long as he likes, provided what he says is somewhat different to what he has already said. If he has anything left to say after tonight, he is welcome to say it, but I will remind him if he repeats himself.
That is grand.
Again, it is very unfortunate that provisions concerning provisional drivers have been added to the Bill and to think that we will criminalise fathers and mothers - jail them, we are told. People commit serious crimes against old people in rural places and get away with it. They are not even jailed. The Minister said mothers and fathers must drive their children or teenagers with provisional licences to school, to their apprenticeships and to work. If they have two, three or four children, which they may have, are they to spend years driving these youngsters around when they could easily drive themselves? I had a proposal, which the House knows about, that young fellas or girls with provisional licences should have speed limiters fitted to their cars because we know that speed is one of the main reasons for accidents and fatalities. There are modern means of assessing the speed a driver does and it can be monitored and read. If they went over such a speed, we could do all these things to prevent speeding and make them drive more slowly and more safely. However, the Minister wants to go the hard route: jail the fathers and mothers or whoever else owns the cars. This is totally unsatisfactory to rural Ireland, where I come from.
Deputy Ryan has left the Chamber, and I do not like talking about people behind their backs, but I did not send him away. I listened to him so I am disappointed he is not listening to me. I can tell him one thing: if the Minister, Deputy Ross, and he joined together, it would be a fairly serious outfit for rural Ireland. One of them on his own is bad enough, but the two of them together would be a serious concoction. I heard Deputy Ryan say he was disappointed to see so many teenagers being driven to school and that more should cycle. If Deputy Ryan were at Kelly's Cross, six miles west of Sneem, where the school bus picks the schoolchildren up, and if we did not have that school bus, and if he is saying they should cycle into Kenmare, it would be dinner time before they landed. They would only be able to stay an hour or two before they would have to think about cycling home again. How ridiculous can he be? The honest truth of it is that I raised the issue of the turns from Blackwater Bridge to Tahilla this morning on Leaders' Questions. That road cannot be cycled safely. One would be killed there because two of anything cannot pass the road. A bicycle would be squeezed. The road cannot be walked safely. Many of our roads are not fit for that, and I am sorry about that. I do not know what Deputy Ryan was aiming at when he stated how many Deputies there are in Kerry and said that so many more people were killed. I do not know what he actually meant by that. It was ridiculous talk. I get on well with Deputy Ryan personally, but what he was talking about is nonsense. He said students would be safer cycling on our roads and that they would not be killed.
That is what I understood from him. That is absolutely bunkum.
Deputy Harty spoke about Dún Laoghaire and people whose lives are ruined when they finish up in Dún Laoghaire in a serious condition. He made it sound like everyone who ended up in Dún Laoghaire had an accident caused by drink. I know of one poor young fellow who was cycling when it happened to him and he was not cycling on the road. He is outside there now and drink had nothing to do with it. People are trying to cloud the issue and blackguard the people in rural Ireland. That is what they are at. They are trying to isolate them. Like I said last night, they want them to feel like rabbits inside a burrow who are afraid to stick their noses out because something would take a swipe at them. I cannot see the sense in making those points.
Deputy Ryan made it sound like the 159 people killed last year on the roads in Ireland were all killed because of drink. That is absolutely rubbish. Someone should be brought to account or provide statistics to tell all of the honest people around the country how those people were killed and why they were killed. Many of them were killed cycling and I am sorry about that; many of them were killed walking and I am sorry about that; many of them were killed driving and I am sorry about that too, for all of the families they leave behind who are hurt, but not all of them were killed because someone had a pint or a pint and a half.
I never condone drink driving and I never will. I know what I did any time I saw someone attempting it, but it was rarely I had to do it. I still say that anyone who drinks a pint and a half or who consumes up to 80 mg never caused a fatality and they are safe to drive, and I will stand over this until the day I die. I cannot understand what gripe the Minister has with the people in rural Ireland.
I would prefer if the Minister listened to me, but perhaps he is too busy and he does not care. Perhaps this is the other reason. He is certainly not interested in saving lives because if he were he would attempt to do something about the trees that are crossing our roads. A few months ago, in Storm Ophelia, three people lost their lives because of trees on our roads. It does not have to be a tree that falls on a car, it can be just a branch that will fall when the wind is blowing and come in the windscreen of a poor woman bringing children home and perhaps kill the children in the car also. The entire family and extended family would be upset and ruined forever. The Minister is making no attempt to deal with this. Take the road from Mallow to Kildorrery. Branches from trees along that road fell in the storm and they are still there, half hanging out over the road. No order or cognisance is taken of these situations and no audit has been done. The Minister could do it because he is the Minister with responsibility for transport and safety on the roads, but he just does not want to make an attempt to do so. He wants to make a name for himself this way, and this is what he is at. Look at all of the junctions. I highlighted this before but I make no apology for highlighting it again. Look at all of the dangerous junctions around Killarney.
-----there is no necessity to repeat. Otherwise we can only assume the purpose behind repetition. I ask Deputy Healy-Rae to ensure that he does not repeat. If he has something new to say then say it. Hold on Deputy McGrath, I am sure Deputy Healy-Rae is well capable to make up his own mind.
Yes, Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Speed is one of the major causes of fatalities. So is tiredness when driving long distances, as people have to do now. They have to get up early in the morning and drive from places such as Cahersiveen in Kerry to Cork or Limerick and drive back home again. It makes a long day out of it and people are tired driving. There is little public transport to help or assist people travelling these distances. Mobile phones have caused many accidents.
I have spoken about the ponding of water on our roads. There is a drainage programme but, as I understand it, it is a programme for draining the sides of county roads. It does not deal with the ponding of water on our regional roads or even on our national secondary roads. The inlets are closed. The section men knew where these inlets were but, sadly, we do not have the section men and no one knows where these inlets are now, so when it rains we have lakes of water on our roads-----
What I am saying about the Bill is, like Deputy Michael Collins said, there is nothing about rural proofing. What will help the people who will be isolated in rural areas because they cannot go to have the one bit of comfort they have, to meet their friends and neighbours in a pub? I heard other Deputies say there were several places for people to go in rural areas, but in most of the county I know the rural villages have only a pub and there are no other facilities for people in rural areas. At one stage, Deputy Heydon suggested 33 or 35 buses would be put in place to take people home. Surely he is not serious that they would cover all of the 26 counties or, if we leave out Dublin, 25 counties. We could also leave out Cork city. Those buses would not cover the rural parts of Cork or Kerry on their own. No realisation is given to what will happen people in rural Ireland. They are lonely as it is but they will be made lonelier, especially farmers and gentlemen living on their own who have little to look forward to after their hard day's work or hard week's work. Before this, they were able to come in to their local pub and have a pint or two and they would have the slip they got at the mart and they would talk about how much they were paid for the calves and the weight of the calves, and they were able to discuss-----
We heard it last night and earlier tonight. They are the same issues of being secure to drive having consumed one and a half pints of alcohol, pubs, facilities etc. We have heard it all. He has covered every single aspect of it over and over again.
I think Deputy Danny Healy-Rae knows the feelings of the House. Maybe he is of the opinion that it is not repetition but I am of the opinion that it is and I must ask him to bring his remarks to a conclusion.
If the Deputy wants a different attitude, he will get a different attitude. I am asking him to bring his remarks to a conclusion because he is being deliberately repetitive. There is a parliamentary word that I will refrain from using so I am asking the Deputy to be reasonable.
What attempt has the Minister made to provide for the people who will be stranded in rural Ireland and for provisional drivers? How are they going to get to colleges, schools, work and other places? The Minister is not being real. They do not have the other modes of transport we have in urban areas. That is truthful and I mean it from my heart. They just do not care.
I am very sorry that this debate has taken the turn it has, particularly in the recent speech. It is imperative that I point that this is a very serious matter. I take very seriously the views of people on the other side of this House and I respect them. I respect the claim of many of them to speak for rural Ireland and to hold sincerely held views which are not held by the majority of this House, but I ask for the same respect for the views of people on this side of the House who disagree about many other things. The tone of this debate has deteriorated to a level that is utterly disrespectful to the argument, and the argument is very simple. Those on this side of the argument have one interest in this and one interest alone, namely, that the lives of people should be saved. They believe sincerely that scientific evidence, which they can point to, backs them up. People on the other side believe they are representing the voices of those who will certainly suffer psychologically, and some who will suffer materially, as a result of the measures that come in. Those particular difficulties, however, bear no comparison with the death of innocent people in crashes on the road.
Even to say that an inconvenience to people, who are breaking the law, by the way, is in some way is of equal importance to the deaths they cause is quite farcical and holds no water. There may be arguments about levels. There may be justifiable arguments, and there are, about rural Ireland. I think Deputy Michael Healy-Rae said that the problem was there beforehand, and it is. I acknowledge fully the problems of rural Ireland, the problem of loneliness and the difficulties people face. I acknowledge that this may cause problems to one or two people, but this is not an attack on rural Ireland. Those who say it is are not just being dishonest, they are being deliberately dishonest. Rural Ireland has problems and we have a duty to address them. Maybe the Deputy is right. Maybe we are not addressing them adequately, but those problems exist independently of what we are doing here today. They would be there one way or the other.
I agree that we must recognise and tackle them. That is our duty as a Government, but that does not mean that we should allow people to drive up and down the roads of Dublin or rural Ireland when they have had too much to drink. To say, as so many speakers have said, that this is not rural-proofed is, again, dishonest. If we are talking about it numerically, several speakers have quite rightly said that this measure will benefit rural Ireland more than Dublin and urban Ireland. There are more tragedies on the roads of rural Ireland than there are in Dublin. I do not want to talk in terms of statistics but the fact is that there are more people in rural Ireland burying their dead because of what is happening on the roads due to alcohol than there are in urban Ireland. That is statistically true and it was eloquently expressed by Deputy Eamon Ryan. The statistics, measures and opinion polls that have been taken scientifically by the RSA through Behaviour and Attitudes prove quite conclusively that the majority of people support this measure. It is not just a majority; it is an overwhelming majority. I do not remember the exact figure but it is somewhere between 88% and 90%. Those are well-published and well-publicised facts.
I understand the emotional feelings that come from Deputies like Deputy Mattie McGrath. I recognise the utterly reasonable arguments that have been made by Deputy Michael Healy-Rae on both occasions.
He is opposed to the Bill, but for reasons which I think are genuine. However, the idea that this Bill should be some sort of plaything for politicians to filibuster is not just an insult to democracy but an insult to people whose lives will be saved by it.
This evening's debate has been deliberately repetitive. It has been in defiance of the wishes of the vast majority of the House. If it is allowed to continue in this vein, people will suffer and measures that could be taken will not be taken.
Let me answer the Deputy's question about people who failed the test umpteen times. He is suggesting that people who failed the test umpteen times are apparently being victimised. They failed the test for very good reasons. They failed the test because they are not safe on the roads on their own. The Deputy is suggesting to me that somehow if they fail the test even more times, they should be allowed back on the road unaccompanied. He said it was unfair. It is more than fair. Those people who fail the test more frequently are more likely to offend on the road and are more likely to do dangerous things.
If the Deputy wants to come in here and plead for those who failed the test to be allowed to drive unaccompanied, it is fine, but that is not something I am prepared to accept.
Deputy Mattie McGrath went on to say things about the RSA. He is absolutely right that the RSA is not a perfect body and it never has been a perfect body. However, he went on to say that I have appointed more board members and increased the size of the board. That is just inaccurate. The board of the RSA is smaller now than it was when I came to office. I have appointed two members.
Thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.
I have appointed two members, at least, to the board of the RSA. I appointed two members who are victims of road tragedies. I have appointed two members who will speak with authority on this issue because they have suffered on this issue. They have suffered and lost loved ones. They are influential. Are you opposing that?
Is Deputy Mattie McGrath opposing that? They are there to represent the voices of those who have suffered. I believe that will bring more success to our drive for the reduction of road deaths.
I believe Deputy Eamon Ryan pointed out that 159 people died on the roads last year. A large number of those were alcohol-related deaths. It is absolutely unacceptable that 159 people died, but it is indisputable that it was the lowest figure on record. That cannot be unrelated to the fact that there have been some very effective awareness campaigns and legislation, I hope, which has been aimed at reducing the number of deaths. We will continue in that vein and we will continue to introduce legislation aimed solely at saving lives. That is all.
It is disingenuous for those who are on the other side to introduce issues such as mobile telephones, speed, etc. They are right that they cause road deaths. We will also tackle them, but it is no good to say, "Why aren't you tackling that?". We are starting with this and we will continue with those measures afterwards. To say that we should not address one because there is another one out there is absurd. The Deputy is right that we are not adequate in our attack on road deaths, but we will continue to do it until we reduce those figures even further. That is the important thing about the Bill. It is simply there as a start to reduce the number of road deaths.
I thank Deputies Catherine Murphy and Troy. Deputy Murphy has one or two reservations about the Bill. I accept that, and I accept that about everybody because I think they are sincere in almost all cases. She has recognised that the inquest asked, particularly on the Clancy amendment, that this measure should be introduced. That was an independent opinion if ever there was one.
I also recognise the presence in the Gallery today of Leo Lieghio, who suffered a terrible tragedy in his family, of Susan Gray from PARC, who has represented the bereaved and who herself is a victim, and of the Clancys, whose bravery in all cases has provided the inspiration that has led us to introduce this legislation. Those people are doing a selfless job, having themselves suffered, to try to ensure that others do not suffer in the same way. It is no coincidence that they are all supporting the Bill because they see it as a measure to ensure that others do not suffer what they had to suffer. That is a pretty selfless, self-sacrificial and honourable course to take. It would behove those who oppose it to listen to the opinions of those people, who have experienced emotions and suffering, as to whether this legislation will help or not.
I also acknowledge the tremendous work Deputy Broughan has put into this issue over the years.
We do not agree about everything, in fact we do not agree about very much but that does not really matter because he is a parliamentarian of great experience who has not come to these problems recently and who has pursued this for well over a decade. I apologise if it is longer. He is supporting this Bill and we should all be grateful for that support. I am grateful.
To specifically address Deputy Troy's questions, which were fair, section 39 of the 2016 Act, not the 2006 Act, is flawed and cannot be commenced. As a result there have been no prosecutions whatsoever. I am replacing this section with an amended version.
Deputy Troy talked about the test times. I think the average test time is 15 weeks. It is too high. I absolutely acknowledge that but we are addressing it and I will give the detail when we come to the section. The Department and the Road Safety Authority, RSA, are addressing that fairly aggressively. There is a possibility, and I think Deputy Munster raised it yesterday, of a massive upsurge in the demand for tests as a result of the measures we are bringing in. We have spelled out what we are going to do about that. It may mean that there is too much demand but the measure is worth taking nevertheless and we will undoubtedly be able to bring down the demand for tests over time.
I think I have already addressed Deputy Collins's issues. On what he called the "booze bus", he does tend to speak in fairly general, sweeping terms. We have had several meetings of interested parties, almost all from rural Ireland, addressing that particular topic. As a result the National Transport Authority, NTA, is researching a pilot scheme which we will run for rural Ireland when we get the NTA's recommendations. I again say to Deputy Collins that I acknowledge the problem of loneliness in rural Ireland and that the transport for those who want to enjoy their normal social life is not there. I am happy to address that. I will address that regardless of this Bill. The issue has been raised in this context but I do not accept that the connection is there. We are going to address it, whatever the fate of this Bill.
Deputy Fitzmaurice talked about the Men's Sheds and men having nowhere to go. That is really an awful insult to the Men’s Sheds, as though they need drink to go-----
He also fell into the unfortunate trap, as other speakers did, of saying everyone sympathises if someone loses a loved one and in nearly every case that was followed by the word "but". There is no "but" after someone loses a loved one.
There is no "but". There is absolutely no "but" when someone loses a loved one.
I thank Deputies Eamon Ryan and Harty for their support. I know it is not easy for them in the situation but it is sincerely given.
To Deputy Danny Healy-Rae, I am irrevocably and totally and utterly opposed to his stance on this. I think it is utterly irresponsible for him to continually repeat "facts" like 1.5 pints is safe. That is a dangerous and misleading thing to say and I do not accept it.
As fewer than ten Members have risen I declare the question carried. In accordance with Standing Order 70 the names of the Deputies dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Dáil.
As fewer than ten Members have risen, I declare the question carried. In accordance with Standing Order 70, the names of the Deputies dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Dáil.
As fewer than ten Members have risen, I declare the question carried. In accordance with Standing Order 70, the names of the Deputies dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Dáil.
Amendment No. 5 is a physical alternative to amendment No. 4. Amendments Nos. 8 to 10, inclusive, amendments Nos. 12, 13, 16 and 18 to 20, inclusive, are consequential on amendment No. 6. Amendments Nos. 8 to 20, inclusive, are physical alternatives to amendment No. 7. Amendment No. 15 is a physical alternative to amendment No. 14. Amendments Nos. 18 to 20, inclusive, are physical alternatives to amendment No. 17.
Amendments Nos. 4 to 21, inclusive, and amendment No. 28, are related and will be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 3, to delete line 10 and substitute the following:
“1.(1) The Road Traffic Act 2010 is amended in section 4 by the substitution of the following for subsection (5):“(5) A person who contravenes this section commits an offence and is liable on indictable conviction to a fine not exceeding €10,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both.”.(2) The Road Traffic Act 2010 is amended in section 29—”.
We have been debating this legislation for the best part of six hours today and yesterday and we finally get an opportunity to speak to some of the amendments we have put forward. This legislation was first brought before the Houses by the Minister in February 2017. While I do not support the filibustering of the legislation by certain Members of the House during those six hours, it is the Minister's responsibility that it has taken 16 months to bring it to where we are today. It is his proposal and he should have been able to bring it before the House in a much more timely and efficient fashion. It is the duty of all here to ensure impaired drivers are taken off our roads.
Some seem to suggest there will be a change in the blood alcohol limit due to this legislation, but there is not. The blood alcohol limit of 50 mg remains the same as when it was introduced in 2011. Despite positive amendments such as the lowering of the blood alcohol limit in 2011, the introduction of penalty points and developments in regard to the introduction of random breath testing, the fact remains that we still have fatalities on our roads. The point I made on Second Stage and Committee Stage is that, if we really want to make a difference in terms of reducing fatalities on our roads, the best way is to first tackle the section where we can get the greatest gains. Not alone is the Minister not tackling those areas, but he is refusing to take an amendment from me in regard to how we could encourage people who are far in excess of the blood alcohol limit to stay off our roads.
The report that has been quoted time and again on this legislation is the RSA report, "Fatal Collisions 2008-2012: Alcohol as a Factor". The facts are that in that period there were 39 fatalities recorded for people with a blood alcohol limit of more than 251 mg; 37 fatalities at a blood alcohol limit of 201 mg to 250 mg; 25 fatalities at a blood alcohol limit between 150 mg and 200 mg; and 20 fatalities at a blood alcohol limit between 100 mg and 150 mg. There are in excess of 100 fatalities in this category and the Minister is doing nothing to address this area. I put forward an amendment on Committee Stage and although I accept it may have been flawed, the Minister could have accepted the principle of the amendment and brought forward his own amendment on Report Stage, but he did not do that.
The real deterrent, if we are talking about getting impaired drivers off the roads, is to make sure we have a significant Garda presence on our roads. Despite the Minister's and the Government's commitments, the number of personnel serving in the traffic corps remains well below the number for 2010. In fact, its strength is 444 fewer than it was in 2010 and there are now a mere 667 personnel in the traffic corps.