Dáil debates

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017: Report Stage (Resumed)

 

Bill recommitted in respect of amendment No. 22.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 22:

7:40 pm

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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On a point of order, a Cheann Comhairle, I want to call for an adjournment as the Minister is out in the corridor and not in the Chamber.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I assume the Minister will be here. We have had-----

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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He is out in the corridor.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We will give him a minute. The normal practice over the years is to give some time-----

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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A Cheann Comhairle, is there any fear he might be using the filibustering tactic you spoke about? If he is, you should chastise him when he comes back.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank the Deputy for that advice. It is much appreciated.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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It is disrespectful, a Cheann Comhairle, when some of us were here for the Parental Leave Bill.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Minister is with us. The Minister was in possession.

Photo of Shane RossShane Ross (Dublin Rathdown, Independent)
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When I re-examined the provision on unaccompanied learner drivers which was inserted into the Road Traffic Act 2016, one matter which came to my attention was the question of what should happen to a vehicle if gardaí intercept a learner driver unaccompanied. Section 41 of the 1994 Act allows the Garda Síochána to detain a vehicle in certain circumstances. These include cases where the vehicle is not taxed or insured or does not display a national car test, NCT, certificate when it should. Detention can also happen in cases where the member has reason to believe that the person has been disqualified from driving or where the person refused to produce a driving licence or learner permit and the member has reason to believe that, due to their age, the driver cannot be licensed to drive.

At present, however, the power to detain a vehicle does not extend to a vehicle driven by an unaccompanied learner driver. I believe this is an omission we should rectify. Imagine the scene at the roadside. A learner driver has been intercepted driving unaccompanied. The terms and conditions of a learner permit are clear and say that a person who has a learner permit should be accompanied. These people are therefore driving in an illegal way. It is wrong, irresponsible and dangerous. I do not believe anyone expects a garda dealing with a situation like this to take the person's details and let them drive off. How can they when the person does not have an accompanying driver?

I will explain briefly how this will work in practice. The rules will be exactly the same as those applying under section 41 if the vehicle is detained on any of the other grounds under that section. The vehicle will be towed away for storage. The owner will then be able to come and reclaim it. They will have to pay a charge for the removal and storage. If it turns out that the vehicle was incorrectly detained, there will be no charge for removal or storage. How could it be incorrectly detained? It is obvious that if a vehicle is detained because it is thought to be uninsured and the owner subsequently proves that it was insured at the time it was detained, it should not have been so detained and all charges are waived. In the case of unaccompanied learners, it might be that the learner had a qualified accompanying driver with them but the accompanying driver did not produce a licence and the member on duty did not accept that the accompanying driver was qualified. If the licence was later produced when the car was being retrieved from storage, there would be no charges.

Under section 41, the Garda has the power to dispose of a vehicle if it was not claimed within a certain period. This period is set in section 41 as being either three weeks or two weeks after a notice of disposal is sent to the owner, whichever is longer.

The reason the Oireachtas chose to act against unaccompanied learner drivers in 2016 was the risk that they can pose to themselves and others, particularly in the light of the appalling Clancy case where mother and daughter, Geraldine and Louise Clancy, lost their lives in an incident caused by an unaccompanied learner driver. Learner drivers are just that - people who are learning to drive. This is why the law requires them to have a qualified driver accompanying them whenever they drive.

Unaccompanied learner driving is illegal and it is dangerous. We need to get the false notion out of people's heads that once someone has a learner permit they are free to drive as they wish. A learner permit is not a licence. It is not something to use for commuting or leisure unless the learner has someone to accompany them. People who have said that somehow putting an end to unaccompanied learner driving will make life harder for people are missing the point. It will make them focus on learning and on getting a full licence and it will make them and all the rest of us safer.

I want to tackle the bizarre suggestion that this measure will in some way put farmers out of business because of the seizure of vital farm equipment. It has even been suggested in some quarters that gardaí will be entering farmyards to seize tractors driven by learners. We hear a lot these days about false news or scare tactics but these claims really take the Oscar. Road traffic law applies to public places. That means public roads and public car parks. It does not apply to farmyards, backyards, fields, front gardens, back gardens or anywhere else which is private land. The idea that gardaí could enter a farmyard and seize vehicles driven there by unaccompanied learners is nonsense.

There is also the question of what is an unaccompanied learner. Learners in some categories of vehicles such as cars have to have a qualified driver accompanying them. For some categories they do not. For example, learner motorcyclists do not have to have a qualified driver with them for reasons which must be obvious.

Learner tractor drivers do not either. Why is that? The people of rural Ireland know, even if those who claim to represent them apparently do not, that tractors have traditionally been built with one seat. Some tractors can take a passenger and the rules state that if a learner tractor driver has a passenger with him or her that person must be a qualified driver. However, we do not require a learner tractor driver to be accompanied by a qualified driver for the obvious reason that in most cases it is not possible. I trust the good sense of the people of rural Ireland to know that and not to be frightened by these absurd and alarmist claims.

7:50 pm

Photo of Michael FitzmauriceMichael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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I move amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 22:

In the fifth line of subparagraph (iv), proposed to be inserted by section 3(c), after “No. 537 of 2006).” to insert “Provided that the provisions of this subparagraph shall not apply in circumstances where a driving test date has not been supplied to an applicant within a period of six weeks from the date of their application.”.

The Minister spoke about people being reckless and unaccountable. It is reckless that the State has failed to give young drivers a test. They go through all the procedures and then apply for their test. Currently, there are youngsters waiting up to six months to get a test. That has been proven. When new laws are being introduced new solutions must also be introduced. The problem is that even though these youngsters have done everything by the book as they were required to do, the State is failing in its obligation to give them a test even in a medium amount of time, which I would consider to be six weeks. There should be no reason for the State not being in a position to do that.

We constantly hear promises that more driver testers will be recruited, which is good, but the figures show that the situation is not improving. In fact, it is getting worse. If a youngster has gone through the different steps of getting their 12 driving lessons from a driving instructor, learning the rules of the road and doing everything he or she is supposed to do and is willing to sit a test, the State should have an obligation to provide it. It is recklessness and unaccountability on the part of the State. The State should give them the opportunity to do it within six weeks but it is leaving them for 19 or 20 weeks without a test even though they are ready for it. Before we impose rules on youngsters we should ensure that we have the procedures and enough driver tester personnel in place around the country.

The Minister referred to tractors and it is good that it is clarified. Many people did not know if it affected tractors, but it is good to know it does not have an effect if there is a single seat in it. The Minister said there is to be an accompanying driver. I believe we should be considering new ideas. I should be as good a driver two days before I pass the test as on the day I pass it, if I am going to pass it. I have said time and again that we should have a system whereby in places such as Mondello Park and other places in the west, south and north one can do an advanced type of driving course with a driving instructor so if the State is unable to give somebody the test the driving instructor could say that in his or her opinion a person is fit or able. One gets a piece of paper on the day one passes the test. Obviously, one has to be as good on the day before it but one does not have that piece of paper in one's hand. The big blockage is the failure of the State to ensure that these youngsters are given the opportunity. That is all we are seeking. Nobody is saying they should be able to travel around on the road in one way or another.

When I and other Deputies talk about rural Ireland we understand it. The Minister seems to be throwing shots across the bow at different public representatives about rural Ireland. To be quite blunt, between potholes in the roads and the different legislative measures being introduced, if the Minister is left much longer in his job he will be remembered in rural Ireland but it will be for the wrong reasons. As has been the case for many years, and I have made this very clear, there are parents in parts of rural Ireland who may have an income of €12,000 to €18,000. Their child might get the opportunity to go to college. The Minister will be well aware of the price of accommodation in Dublin and in other places around the country where there are colleges. Unfortunately, many parents cannot afford it. There is no point in beating around the bush about what has happened down through the years - a car was bought and the youngster would drive to college. We must ensure that we give such youngsters an equal opportunity, whether they live in Dublin, Donegal or Kerry, to do the test as quickly as possible. That piece of paper is a life saver and might be the difference between a youngster going to college or not going to college.

We can introduce laws and that is fine. After that, however, the State does not seem to be bothered. The law is in place and the State talks about recruiting driving instructors or driver tester personnel over the following six, eight or 12 months, but a large number of youngsters are seeking to do driving tests at present and, unfortunately, that facility is not available. To compound that we introduced something that has blocked the system further. There are many drivers who were backing trailers all their lives and then found out that they did not have it on their licence. They are seeking to sit a test. This issue should be checked in the different Departments, not just the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. It is also a matter for the county councils. The licences were shredded and the councils cannot now tell people if it was before 1991 or 1992 when they got their licences. That is a problem in various places. The councils went from paper to computerised records and whatever happened in the meantime - I am not blaming the Department - many people are now caught as a result of not having the information they should have.

The Department and especially the RSA talk about safety. The first thing I would do is ensure that there is no excuse for not being able to take a test. We should make sure that facility is available. Why is there such a big problem with a lack of driver testers?

Is it that there is not a budget or driving testers? There are many people around the country who are well qualified at driving that it does not take a year to get up to the spec that is required with the amount of licences.

Even in Dublin there is a shortage of testers. It is depriving youngsters of an equal opportunity if they are going to college or getting a job. Every Deputy gets phone calls every day of the week from people waiting for a driving test. It should be the number one priority to say that by next September we will guarantee every person that they will have a test within six weeks. If the Minister can do that, he can ensure he enforces whatever laws he wants to introduce. We are doing one thing on the one hand without solving the problem. This has not just happened in the Minister's time; I am not having a go at him about this. This goes back for a while.

The waiting time for a driving test is getting longer and longer. It is possible to get the theory test within a few days. It is a great facility and well set up. A person who gets less than 35 questions right out of 40 can be back again the following week. We need concrete information that within three months, nobody will be waiting for longer than six weeks.

8:00 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy has made his case very powerfully. We might ask the Minister to address the issue of the availability of tests.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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A Cheann Comhairle-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I will come to Deputy Michael Healy-Rae, do not worry.

Photo of Shane RossShane Ross (Dublin Rathdown, Independent)
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I will address the issue of tests. I accept the criticisms made by virtually every Member of this House. I also accept the case made by virtually every Member of the House that the driving test waiting list is too long. The Deputy talked about a six-month period. I think that is the highest possible one. The objective of the RSA is ten weeks and the average is around 12 to 14 weeks. That is still not an acceptable level. We should certainly aim to come down to six weeks and we are not there.

The RSA has recently taken measures involving extra overtime for existing driving testers, which will bring the waiting time down. It is gradually introducing new systems to allow tests to be done on a self-appointment basis. In other words, applicants can do it all on the Internet and fill in the gaps that way, rather than making an appointment.

The RSA has also taken measures to eliminate the no-shows, which represented a very large number of those applying for tests. No-shows were a big problem. Measures have now been taken whereby it contacts all those who are coming up for a test and those who are likely to be no-shows because of their records. Those are also reducing in numbers.

I accept Deputy Fitzmaurice's criticisms. It is a fair criticism to say that the waiting list for tests is too long. It is a fair criticism to say it is not reducing quickly enough. However, this does not justify by any stretch of the imagination putting a lethal vehicle such as a car in the hands of someone who is patently judged not fit to drive it.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I appreciate the opportunity to speak to this. I am sorry to say that I was unhappy with what the Minister said in the first place and I am still unhappy with his response to Deputy Fitzmaurice. We need to go back to the nub of the argument the Minister is making with regard to this proposal. The Minister is making an assumption that an accident involving an unaccompanied driver would not have happened if he or she had a fully qualified driver with them. I cannot agree with the criminalising and the targeting of young people.

I will say one thing about our young people. Every one of us had to start somewhere, whether it was driving a motorcar or a tractor, or getting up on a digger. Every one of us had to do something for the first time. None of us came into this world being able to perform the tasks that we might do now at our ease. Everybody has to start somewhere. I cannot for the life of me figure out why the Minister is targeting our young people - the people we cherish, the people we want to stay here, the people we want to encourage to work.

What about young people in the constituency I am very proud to represent, living down in Tuosist or in Valentia Island or any part of Kerry, be it east, north, south or west, if they are fortunate enough to get a bit of a part-time job or want to go helping an uncle or an aunt? If it means travelling a bit and if they want to make a bit of money, is the Minister seriously saying they must pass the test at a time when they are told they cannot have their test because they have to wait? In saying that, I want to compliment the people carrying out the tests in Kerry, but unfortunately they are not being given the resources to allow them to carry out tests in a reasonable length of time and that is why people have to wait for too long.

What the Minister is telling these people who need to travel, whether it is going to college to further their education, get on in life and get their leg up on the ladder or whether it is to go to work? The Minister and his colleagues in government and the people who support them who come from rural areas, often go into and out of the farmyards that the Minister spoke about a while ago. When an election is called, they will go into those yards and will seriously look at those parents and say, "Well, we're the people who supported Minister Ross when he wanted to criminalise you, we backed him, we voted for him and the whole way of life of your young people is being upset because of what has been done inside in Dáil Éireann."

I am extremely sorry for any person who loses his or her life on our roads. None of us wants to see a parent losing anybody belonging to them. We do not want to see anybody dying on our roads. However, unfortunately it has happened and always will happen, despite everybody's best efforts quite simply because accidents do happen. To try to put this down on young people and say that it is okay to pass this provision and target young people, that it is okay to paralyse them and leave them in such a way - the Minister should think about the practicality of what he is suggesting. On the one hand they cannot sit the test, because the place is not there for them to sit the test immediately when they want to. So they have a provisional licence. The Minister is saying then that if they are getting up early in the morning and if they have a job or if in the evening time they get work and want to go work, they cannot drive to work.

They have to get their mother, father, aunt, uncle or somebody else with a full licence to sit in with them. This may work in this city where people have many transport options but in the county I represent we do not have those methods of transport. If a parent in Boheshill or Glencar wants to send a young person out to work or, more importantly, the young person wants to go himself or herself, how is he or she supposed to do so? It is not practical or sensible that a parent would have to accompany that person. The current system is working. It is not broken. Trying to blame every accident on young people is not fair or right.

As I said earlier, everyone of us had to start somewhere. In rural areas, in particular on farms, the younger a person sits behind the wheel of a car the better. I am speaking in this regard of off-road driving. The younger he or she is trained the better. One cannot buy that type of training. The first time a young person reared in an urban area might sit behind the wheel of a car is when he or she obtains a provisional licence. I believe this person is at a disadvantage in comparison with the person who might have had an opportunity to sit behind the wheel of a car from a very young age, accompanied, perhaps, by a parent explaining how the car works. Everyone in my family learned to drive off-road at a very young age, as did my own children. All of my children were capable of driving from a very young age. If they were not, there would have been something drastically and radically wrong. The longer children in rural areas are driving in farmyards and off-road the better because it is educational and good for them. It prepares them for travelling on the road. I recognise that not everybody has that opportunity, which is all the worse for them.

In terms of what the Minister is trying to do, I am sorry for the people of Ireland who are upset by it. The Minister is not 100% at fault in this regard because he could not do this without the backing of the Government, which he is supporting, along with some Opposition Deputies, which they are perfectly entitled to do. All Deputies have their own mandates. They are here representing people but they seem to be representing a different group of people to those I represent. As the Minister knows, I am working on the ground every day of the week from early morning to late at night seven days per week. I adore the job of representing the people of Kerry. As long as they continue to elect me, I will speak on their behalf. As I said, I believe what the Minister is doing is hurtful. Time will prove what he is doing to be wrong. Despite his best efforts there will continue to be accidents. To insinuate that a young driver will not be involved in an accident when accompanied by a person with a full licence is wrong and misguided. The Minister is misleading people and he is going after young people when he should not be doing so.

If I had all night I could not explain how hurtful and wrong this is. I plead with the Minister to even at this late stage see the error of what he is doing and to understand it is wrong. I plead with him to relent and to listen to people who are proposing other options. There are other ways of dealing with these matters. For example, the Minister could come into this House tomorrow morning with proposals to properly resource driver testing centres so that people can have an opportunity to sit their driver test at the earliest opportunity and if they fail it they will have the opportunity to take a retest almost immediately. Practical, sensible measures such as this would make sense.

Unfortunately, when it comes to road safety we have gone crazy. For example, when lorries and buses are tested and certified roadworthy they can be stopped on the road the following day and rechecked, which does not make sense. Unfortunately, authorities such as the Road Safety Authority, RSA, and the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, which were set up with good intentions, are losing the run of themselves. When it comes to road safety people operating businesses, be it buses, lorries or hackneys, have to negotiate many hoops. We all want to ensure that vehicles that are operated for reward meet all safety standards and are certified roadworthy but even when these vehicles are tested and certified roadworthy they can be hauled in for a recheck. This is a money making racket. It is about time somebody in the Minister's position examined what is happening to these law abiding, decent people who are keeping this Government and the country going. These people are self employed and providing jobs for many other people and they are being terrorised in their businesses.

8:10 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy is straying from the amendments which have a fairly narrow focus.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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They do.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy has made his point very well.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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When the Minister spoke earlier he hung his hat on road safety. I am talking about road safety. I am talking about saving lives. I am talking about things in a sensible way and I am asking the Minister to look at other aspects of road safety that he is not looking at. Since becoming Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, has concentrated on a very narrow focus of road safety. Many times I have stood up in this House and pointed out that driving a car is one of the sure things young people will do and I have asked the Minister why he and the Minister for Education and Skills do not work together and put road safety and driving cars on the school curriculum, again, from a very early age. Why should young people not be taught the ins and outs of road safety while at school? In the past number of years, I have not heard a Minister make that suggestion in this House or agree to take on board that suggestion when I and others made it. If the Minister is about saving lives, he should be looking at every aspect of road safety and not one particular aspect of it, which is what he and the people supporting him have been doing. I do not understand why he does not broaden his focus.

There are so many other reasons for accidents on our roads. Sadly, a couple were fatally injured on our roads today. We do not want to see this happening but I do not believe the measures the Minister is hoping to introduce will prevent accidents. It would be wrong to say any more about the accident that occurred today. I just had to acknowledge it.

8:20 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy has made his point very clearly.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I have not.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy has.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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Unless the Ceann Comhairle is going to cut me off I would like the opportunity-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I would not even think about cutting the Deputy off but he has made his points very clearly and he might want to give way to his colleague who wants to speak as well.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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In another minute I will.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Alright.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I want to hope that the Minister will listen to the voices of reason, to people who calmly try to point out that there is more to road safety and saving lives than what he is concentrating on. Why not consider all the other issues that have been raised during these debates, which have gone on but rightly so? What the Minister is hoping to do will change things forever in rural Ireland which has been hit hard enough for long enough. Each person can speak only for their own area. I have seen the accidents that have happened over the years and have known the cause of many of them. In many cases the truth of what happens goes unreported. It seems to be grabbing headlines that the Minister's solution will fix everything on our roads. That is so wrong.

I would like to see the Minister tackle issues that I and others have raised tonight, and will continue to raise. He should be looking at a bigger picture and not concentrating on what he is doing at present. The Minister is probably burnt out from this but the hardship he is about to impose will never be underestimated. Like any rule or regulation, once it comes in, if it comes in, it will be very hard to reverse. It will make our place more unattractive for our young people. Where I am from we have lost many people who left because there was no work for them. They went to England, Australia, America and other parts of Europe. I would give my back teeth to see those people here again. Unfortunately, however, they have started new lives and now we might also lose the next generation. It is sad that grandparents and potential grandparents will not have their grandchildren growing up here.

The Minister is ensuring that young people starting out will say to hell with this, if they are from a country area, living with their parents and see that they cannot travel to work, will not be allowed on the road, cannot sit their driving test and get their full licence, and they will decide to chance their arm in Australia for a few months. If they do that they might never come back. This could have the knock-on effect of robbing us of more people who we want to keep in our countryside, in Ireland. They are the taxpayers, politicians and teachers of the future. They are the people we will rely on. We are only on a wheel, we will not be here forever. All I want is to see those people here to replace every one of us, myself and the Minister included. They will not be there if the Minister is going to hunt them, which is exactly what will happen. It is wrong and unfair.

I ask the Minister to please look at this again and take on board the opinions I have given him in a cool, calm and reasoned way. I speak on behalf of many people. I would not mislead the Minister, as he knows in his heart and soul. Many people are talking about this and are upset about it. They believe the Minister is misguided in what he is trying to do. They are not nasty about it and I am not nasty about it, as the Minister knows. I am being very reasonable and pleading with him. He has the power, as Minister, and I plead with him to look at this again and not to discourage our young people from living here, not to criminalise their hard working parents, not to tie them up in more red tape and bureaucracy and laws, all in the interest of road safety when we all know it will not lead to our roads being safer. There is so much other work that can be done on our roads to make them safer. For instance, one of the most basic things that could be done tomorrow morning would be to tell every local authority to keep water off the roads and keep hedges cut on narrow country roads. Does the Minister realise how many accidents and injuries that would prevent?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy is wandering.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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When I started off in a county council every councillor was entitled to use councillor's allocation to cut hedges. That was stopped. One of the main reasons people have accidents on narrow country roads is that they are keeping out from the ditches because hedges are not being cut.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy is wandering from the subject matter of the amendment.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I am coming back to what the Minister talked about. He drew it on himself because he spoke about road safety.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy need not mind the Minister.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I have to mind the Minister because he is bringing forward the legislation.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy should focus on the amendment.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I am focusing on it. Will the Minister, as the Minister with responsibility for safety on our roads, use his power to ensure that the local authorities will go back cutting hedges and to the basic work they used to do long ago when we had section men who went out every day? They were proud of keeping their sections of road clear of water and keeping the hedges cut. This work has been neglected and is causing accidents. It is about time somebody told the truth in here and said that is what is causing many accidents. If the Minister asked gardaí they would not be long about telling him what is causing accidents. Many of them would privately tell him something completely different from what the public is being fed and what many in the media say, that the Minister is right and everyone else, including us, is wrong. I can only plead with the Minister on behalf of the people I am elected to represent.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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I support the Minister's amendment to the 1994 Act. I have been asking the Minister for a long time to address consolidation of road traffic legislation. On its website, the Law Reform Commission appends all the changes that have been made to the Act since 1994, through the Bills passed since then. As that is the case, is it not possible for the Minister to ask the Law Reform Commission to make a full consolidation instead of having the House consider road traffic Bills almost annually? We could have all road traffic Acts in one convenient consolidated Bill, as was done, for example, with the Companies Act 2014 and other legislation.

Deputy Fitzmaurice made the reasonable point that several thousand drivers continue to drive on repeat learner permits. They are, however, entitled to a speedy test. The Minister should address that in the Bill.

I also agree with Deputy Michael Healy-Rae on driver education. Purchasing a house and looking after the household and homestead and purchasing and looking after and driving a vehicle are perhaps the two most important transactions in a person's life. It is reasonable to expect that the educational system should focus on that. It should be an important part of second level education.

There was a horrendous tragedy on the Inishowen Peninsula where a teenager was killed driving a vehicle unaccompanied.

10 o’clock

It brings home to us the urgent need to address the situation. People have referred in the past to joyriding and to unaccompanied driving at a very young age. This can result in a horrendous tragedy for the family, the district and the child. The Minister has set out a reasonable case as to why we should proceed. Looking at the practice across the rest of the European Union, it is interesting that in most countries preparation for driving is an educational process that one goes through. One then proceeds to obtain one's licence.

The main point is that this House tried to legislate for this area in the 2016 Act with an amendment in Deputy Imelda Munster's name. That Bill passed and was signed by the President. The same happened with the rickshaw issue. It is incredible that we have had to go back over this ground at such length. I refer to the section in the 1994 Act and the detention of vehicles and giving additional power to An Garda Síochána in respect of unaccompanied drivers. We could have dealt with this more expeditiously. The Dáil tried to do so in the 2016 Bill. The Minister and the Minister for Justice and Equality have given us the figures in respect of unaccompanied young people who tragically have been killed and seriously injured over the past six or seven years. It is an area of road safety we can address and we should do so with this amendment and the final amendment.

Most of these debates have been attended by Mr. Noel Clancy and his daughter and the relatives of victims of tragic road crashes. It would be fitting that we listen to their pleas and those of tens of thousands of families affected by serious road crashes and fatalities and that we would accept the Minister's amendment.

8:30 pm

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I delighted to be able to speak on amendment No. 22, which relates to drivers with an L plate. I am disappointed, however. The Minister had an opportunity last night - he was allowed ten minutes - to respond to some of our questions but he chose not to do so. Deputy Broughan intervened as well. We have asked many questions during the course of the debate, including on Committee Stage, when were allowed to speak as non-members of the committee. Privately, I have had long discussions with the Minister, Deputy Ross, on this. I am disappointed he was unable to have a proper discourse on this legislation. We all want to make the roads safer. Ar an gcéad dul síos, I totally condemn anyone who drives recklessly, uninsured or drunk. I refer to people injured and hurt and I sympathise with Mr. Clancy and his daughter. Deputy Healy-Rae just informed us that two more people lost their lives on the roads today, of which I was not aware. It is a huge, complex and multifaceted problem.

We are passing this legislation even though the Minister is only two years in office. While I appreciate that, I have a document relating to the commencement of sections of legislation, which is relevant. I mention the Road Safety Authority (Commercial Vehicle Roadworthiness) Act 2012 and the Commercial Vehicle Roadworthiness (Roadside Enforcement) Regulations 2018. I mention also the Merchant Shipping (Registration of Ships) Act 2014, which was enacted over four years age. All this legislation is under the Minister's Department.

I asked about the Construction Contracts Act 2013 earlier today, which is badly needed. We pass Bills, and it may be the same with this one, but when are they commenced? I refer to sections of the Road Traffic Act 2016. I have been delving into the sections of many Bills but this issue relates to transport.

I refer to the issue of L plates. I have great admiration for young people. Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí. Driving is an important skill to have and that applies whether one is living in Dublin, Clonmel, Carrick-on-Suir, Thurles, Nenagh, Rearcross or elsewhere. Young people are entitled to respected and to be allowed to drive. Many young people in the country, especially if they are farmers or are friends of farmers, get great experience on the land and not on the road. That is from a young age and they are accompanied and trained well.

Nowadays one has to have 12 lessons from an officially recognised tester. That is good legislation and is very important and valuable for young people because they get that tuition. Parents might not always be the best teachers. I have a family of eight and many of them did not get those lessons but got them from my wife or myself. Since that legislation came in, 12 lessons have to be obtained from approved testers and that can cost anywhere from €350 to €500. It is a lot of money but it is money well spent. Like Deputy Healy-Rae and others, I am anxious that we have simulator testing on the syllabus in schools. The Abbey School in Tipperary town has had that for a number of years for transition year, TY, students. It created a track as it was lucky to have the space. An experienced driving instructor comes in and the students do that as part of their TY studies. That is a very good programme of which I am all in favour. Some of the students, however, do not get as much benefit from some of the courses as they should. This, however, is a practical, hands-on course. Girls and boys learn to drive, pay for lessons and get good experience from the tester, Mr. Joe Quinn. He has arranged this with the school, which I salute. We need more of that. The Buttimer family in Cahir is applying for a new racing track. The planning application mentioned that it is hoped to use that track as a simulator course for young people to learn how to drive.

It is not only young people who need to learn to drive but some older people as well. We have people returning from America and different places. If they are gone for a number of years, they lose their licence. They have to start off with the theory test, which was not there when I did my test. It only came in quite recently. They have to do lessons before they do their test. There are many things that can be beneficial. We would have liked to have worked with the Minister on this but he refused to engage or to discuss it with us.

The delay in getting a driver test is a big issue. It is the same no matter what age one is but more often it affects young people. It varies across the country. I do not always listen to Mr. Joe Duffy on "Liveline" but recently there was a debate on the programme about failure rates. They are very alarming in some places. They vary greatly between urban areas and between rural areas. We had a second test centre in Tipperary when the national car test, NCT, centre opened. We lobbied the Minister and another centre was provided in Cahir but it was closed a year or two later. I think the reason was that there were no traffic lights in the town other than pedestrian crossings. I am not sure but it was alleviating the waiting list and backlog in Tipperary.

I know the testers, and there is not a week that goes by that parents or the young people themselves are not looking for an appointment to take a driving test. They have to wait to get it. It is daunting. I remember quite well doing my test. One gets nervous, like any test. There is competition and a person can feel a bit on edge. He or she is driving, doing his or her best, but cannot communicate with the tester. If a person fails the test, he or she cannot reapply for a full month. That person will have done the theory test and taken all the lessons, which takes a good number of months. He or she builds up confidence and gets the sign-off from the driving instructor when ready. The driving instructors use their intuition, and I praise them for the help, encouragement and enthusiasm they give to those young people, and indeed to new drivers from here and abroad.

When those people go for the test, many anomalies crop up. I read out a list of such anomalies on the previous occasion, and I do not want to be repetitive. People fail tests because the rubber has gone off the little handle that allows the seat to go backwards and forwards, or because there is a cap on an expansion tank overflow. This can happen to a car that passed the NCT four days earlier. Are we contradicting or overriding the NCT tests?

There are other inconsistencies in testing. There is often no shed or covered area available to inspect the car in. I am aware of many people who have turned up, by appointment, for tests on a wet day. Those people did not choose the weather but there was no visual inspection of the car because it was too wet. I am aware of one instance where a person travelled to the testing centre in Clonmel only for the tester to decide that it was too foggy, even though the person had to drive to the centre from Cappawhite, which is 30 miles, with an accompanying driver in the fog. Driving is done in all kinds of conditions. It is not easy. I am aware of someone who failed because it was too frosty.

I agree with the Minister when he says that no-shows must be punished and taken out of the system, because they are taking slots from others. I fully accept that. Those people should be able to give notice. Of course, something might happen on the morning of the test, such as an accident or the person being ill, but I do not give any credit to people who decide not to do the test because they want to delay it and do not inform the test centre. That is a slot gone for someone else.

On the previous occasion I gave the Minister figures on the number of testers that have been recruited since 2014. I asked him a question and he did not answer it. Of the 26 recruited, only a small number had been put to work. Even though they applied and got the job they were not functioning as employees. Perhaps the Minister will clarify whether there is an issue with the trade unions. I do not know whether there is an issue, but I have heard it suggested, and I would be very concerned if that was the case. Everybody who cannot get a test is being discommoded. I would like to see a system in place where a person can book a test once he or she has completed his or her lessons.

If a person fails for one of the reasons I mentioned, including the weather or an inspection which reveals that some manual instrument in the car is not working, there should be a fail advisory issued. If one is good enough to drive, a fail advisory should be issued and the problem could be sorted out. To fail the whole test and have to go back through the system again for a month is wrong. For that month that person in rural Ireland, who may have failed for something I feel should be advisory, is going to be criminalised, especially if his or her parents, guardians or somebody else he or she trusts in his or her friendship circle cannot be with him or her. That is very unfair. The legislation the Minister is introducing is going to criminalise that person, and indeed the car owner, if he or she is stopped at a checkpoint without a full licence. Parents ring me all the time - I am sure the same is true for other Deputies - whose children have just finished secondary school and who hope to go for an apprenticeship or college, and if they want to travel-----

8:40 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I am sorry to interrupt the Deputy, but it is now 10.15 p.m. and we must conclude our business.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I would appreciate it if the Minister could address some of the issues being put to him next time he speaks, rather than just blaming us.

Debate adjourned.

The Dáil adjourned at at 10.15 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 14 June 2018.