Wednesday, 8 May 2019
Road Traffic (All Terrain Vehicle and Scrambler Motor-cycle) (Amendment) Bill 2019: Second Stage [Private Members]
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I am sharing time with Deputy Curran. We are delighted to get this Bill to Second Stage. It is necessary legislation which we introduced on First Stage recently. I wish to address the reasons Fianna Fáil is introducing this legislation. Quad bikes and scramblers are terrorising too many communities. It is a growing and disturbing trend. We are all familiar with the media case of the Armenian man, Ilabek Avetian, who lost an eye and was left in a coma last year when he was run over by a scrambler bike while sunbathing with his wife in a public park. In 2017 alone, 62 people were injured in quad and scrambler bike accidents. While we acknowledge that gardaí do their best to police the use of these vehicles, they currently exist in a legal lacuna as road traffic legislation, probably the most contested legislation on the Statute Book, is not applicable to green spaces and parks where these vehicles are most commonly used. I know previous efforts were made in this House to address that. Even if those spaces were included under the road and traffic Acts, which is what the Minister was referring to in his press release when he said he would oppose the Bill and that gardaí have these powers to detain people using scrambler bikes already, the simple fact and what makes this Bill necessary is that in order to detain a youth using a scrambler, gardaí first have to catch them. In order to catch them, they have to pursue and chase them, which involves traversing public space and putting the public at risk. Senior gardaí across various joint policing committees in this county and beyond have issued instructions to officers not to pursue, chase or attempt to intercept youths on scramblers because the very act of chasing poses a danger to the public. Even when gardaí see a bike being driven in an illegal manner on public roads, drivers simply go off-road and prevent gardaí from taking any action.
This Bill will address these issues. For the first time, riding a quad or scrambler bike in an antisocial and dangerous manner will be an offence under public order legislation, not under roads and traffic legislation. This is an important step forward as it will give gardaí the power to seize bikes that are being ridden dangerously in all public areas, including parks and green spaces. The Bill will increase the penalties for supplying these bikes to underage people. Between 2014 and 2017, 39 people lost their lives on scramblers and quad bikes. Three out of four of them were children. It is simply irresponsible and reckless to supply these bikes to children. The Bill will increase the maximum fine for doing so to €5,000. It will also allow gardaí to seize a bike that has been illegally supplied. The Bill will direct the Minister to establish a national vehicle register for these vehicles, to increase accountability for their owners. Too often, quads and scrambler bikes are not registered by any owner, making it very difficult for gardaí to enforce laws surrounding them. Finally, the Bill will require the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to introduce regulations allowing gardaí to remove these bikes from the curtilage of a home.
I wish to address the question as to whether the Bill negatively affects legitimate quad and scrambler bike users, such as farmers. We on this side of the House are aware that all-terrain vehicles, ATVs, have many legitimate uses such as in farming. Certain hobbyists are also responsible and safe in their use of these vehicles. Much of this Bill is not applicable to these users as they are not guilty of using these vehicles in a dangerous or antisocial manner. As it stands, quad bikes are already supposed to be taxed and insured on public roads, so this does not create any new requirement for legitimate users. Nor does the Bill create any new requirements for quad and scrambler bikes that are used solely on private property such as farms. We do not believe it is overly onerous for these users to have to register their bikes with a national vehicle registration database as is required under this legislation. Safe and responsible users of these vehicles have nothing to fear from accountability and indeed this register may prove useful in terms of tracing stolen bikes. The Bill does increase the penalties where the bike is being driven in an unsafe or antisocial manner. However, legitimate users of quad bikes have nothing to fear in this regard.
The Bill is really needed. Representatives of the Garda have been very clear regarding the legal ambiguity surrounding quad and scrambler bikes. Last year, following that tragic accident in Darndale Park, assistant Garda Commissioner Pat Leahy said that there was no certainty as to whether gardaí could enforce laws regarding quads and scramblers in public parks which fall outside the definitions of "public place" in road traffic legislation. According to the joint policing parks subcommittee, Dublin City Council, in conjunction with the other Dublin local authorities, An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice and Equality, is also considering the options to deal with the danger caused by the use of quad bikes and scramblers within park grounds as the existing legislation has limited power to enforce such issues permitting An Garda Síochána to take action only if they are being driven erratically on public roads and footpaths. Members of the force are advised not to pursue quad bikes due to the risk of accident or injury to users and bystanders.
The Minister's decision as indicated in a press release to oppose this Bill is going to represent a turning point in this Dáil. It represents a complete inability to see the dangers and challenges on the ground, particularly that communities are facing. Deputy Curran and other Deputies will speak on this. In areas of my constituency such as Kingswood, Killinarden, Jobstown, Kiltipper, Old Bawn, Fettercairn and the Dodder Valley, scramblers are being used and, as one person said to me, they only seem to come out when the goal nets go up on the public pitches. They are being driven through laneways. Motorcyclists are doing wheelies. They are ploughing up pitches and open spaces, interrupting football games and interrupting social play and activity. They are preventing the 95% of people who use their local amenities sensibly and responsibly from doing so. In rejecting this Bill, the Minister is turning his back on communities across Dublin. He is making a political calculation that it does not matter and that there will be no political cost to it. In saying the Garda already has the powers it needs, the Minister has completely ignored what the gardaí are saying. I reiterate that gardaí have the powers to detain scrambler and quad bike users but to do so, they need to stop them, which means they need to chase and intercept them. Senior gardaí across the metropolitan areas have issued instructions that they cannot do this because it puts the lives of the public in danger. The Bill circumvents this and gives gardaí the powers to do it. The Minister is saying the gardaí ought to use the powers they have and to enforce them. He is saying gardaí on motorbikes should pursue a scrambler rider across open space and public parks, or they should be pursued by a four by four jeep if they had one in Tallaght or by a number of squad cars until they catch a person, putting God knows how many lives potentially in danger. Not to see that represents a disconnect from the reality of what is happening in these communities.
We are in an election cycle. Our preparation of this legislation came well in advance of that. This issue is not exclusive to Dublin. In Kerry, there are issues with quad bikes and scramblers on beaches. It is also beginning to emerge as a problem in Limerick and other centres. Failing to recognise this indicates that the Government is completely disconnected, unaware and - if it opposes the legislation - indifferent to the consequences. Simply stating that the Garda has all the powers it needs completely misses the point, particularly when the force is reluctant to use those powers because of the danger in which the general public can be placed as a result.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Road Traffic (All Terrain Vehicle and Scrambler Motor-cycle) (Amendment) Bill 2019. This Bill has come about because of the growing problem with quad bikes and scramblers in many urban areas. Deputy Lahart alluded to certain areas. There is not a Member of this House who represents an urban area who has not come across this problem. It affects areas, predominantly urban, right across the country and, unfortunately, it is growing. We did not begin by wanting to produce legislation. I consulted the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and submitted parliamentary questions, which were subsequently transferred to the Minister for Justice and Equality. The matter has gone on for three years. I acknowledge that the Minister for Justice and Equality has taken it seriously and that he launched a consultative process. He acknowledges that there is a growing issue with quad bikes and scramblers in urban and, in particular, residential areas.
Like many of us, I have been out canvassing in recent weeks. For an hour and a half on a road in a housing estate - not in a park - a young fellow was driving a scrambler round and round. At every door I was informed that it was terrible and that people could not let their young children out. That is happening in communities across the city, not just in my area.
The Minister for Justice and Equality has been aware of it. Over a year ago he convened a cross-agency and interdepartmental meeting. The meeting was attended by officials from the Departments of Justice and Equality, Transport, Tourism and Sport, Housing, Planning and Local Government and Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, An Garda Síochána, the Road Safety Authority and the Revenue Commissioners. There was an understanding that we have a significant problem that needs to be addressed. The Minister spoke about the need to develop a multi-agency approach in order to tackle this antisocial behaviour effectively. The purpose of the cross-sectoral meeting was to ascertain whether additional legislative or other solutions could assist in dealing with the misuse of scramblers and quad bikes more comprehensively with a view to determining responsibility and timeframes for implementation of solutions identified.
It is unfortunate that the Minister for Justice and Equality is not here tonight, but the Minister opposite, Deputy Ross, might relay this message to him. The Minister for Justice and Equality stated that he remains committed to actively supporting any positive action that can be pursued in order to counteract the serious public safety issues associated with the misuse of scramblers and quad bikes. I encourage him to work with us on this legislation. I do not claim that it is perfect. It is a starting point and can be developed. We are open to working with the Minister on amendments. In fact, it would have been preferable if the Minister were advancing this legislation because the resources in the Department are far greater than those available to us. I will gladly work with him because a solution is necessary.
I accept that we have an abundance of road traffic legislation. However, as my colleague explained, it is simply unenforceable. I have been a member of a joint policing committee, JPC, for three years. The issue of quad bikes and scramblers has arisen at every meeting and on each occasion it takes time to go through the same debate whereby the gardaí present clearly indicate the areas where they are in use. The superintendents of the different districts state, as a matter of public record, that they have instructed their officers not to pursue young people riding quad bikes or scramblers because it is not safe for them to do so. While some people may state that we already have adequate legislation, it is not effective and is not being enforced. The problem is getting worse each year. It is more prevalent, with more people and a greater range of quad bikes and scramblers involved. Something needs to be done.
Earlier, I outlined the Minister's response from a year ago. I have been following up with the Minister for Justice and Equality because the matter needs to be addressed. In February in response to a parliamentary question, he advised me:
... my Department's main focus over the past number of months has been on the consideration of legal advice received from the Office of the Attorney General in November. This required engagement with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in the context of existing road traffic legislation.
The Deputies will be aware from my most recent reply that the consensus of both Departments, and the Office of the Attorney General, is that road traffic and public order legislation [these words are important] appear to provide adequate means for prosecuting offences relating to this anti-social behaviour.
He stated that they "appear to provide", but they are simply not working; it is not happening. While the legislation may be in place, enforcement and implementation are not happening. Based on the reply to which I refer, we decided to introduce legislation to assist the Garda. The real problem is that during the event when somebody is on a quad bike or a scrambler going up and down the banks of the canal, through a housing estate, on a football pitch, in a parkland, a linear park or whatever, they are getting away with it. Gardaí are simply not in a position to enforce the law to stop and seize the bike at that point. As Deputy Lahart indicated, this legislation affords the opportunity to seize the quad bike or scrambler at a time other than when the offence is being committed and that is the change that needs to be made. The existing legislation does not allow that to happen. We are asking the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to reconsider his response.
I listened in detail to what Deputy Lahart said. This is a reasonable proposition; it is not punitive. Fianna Fáil has many Members who represent rural areas. Deputy Lahart asked whether this would be punitive road traffic legislation for people in rural areas who may legitimately use quad bikes on their farms. We are aware of that. Most of this legislation is not applicable to those people because they are not guilty of using vehicles in a dangerous or antisocial manner.
It is worth noting that quad bikes that are used on farms are already supposed to be taxed and insured for use on public roads. This legislation does not create any new requirement in that regard for legitimate users. The Bill does not create any new requirement for quad bikes and scramblers that are used solely on private property such as farms. People in rural areas, who may be of the view that this will be punitive in respect of quad bikes they use for agricultural purposes, should not be concerned. We are quite clear that this is not the intention behind the legislation. If anybody has an issue with that, they can propose amendments to clarify the position. However, it is not the purpose of the Bill.
Deputy Lahart went through the main points of the legislation. To address the antisocial and dangerous manner in which these bikes are used, under the public order legislation we would increase the penalties for supplying these bikes to underage people. The Minister has acknowledged the legislation is there; we are proposing that those penalties be increased. We also propose the establishment of a vehicle register. For most law-abiding citizens, registration should not be a problem and could, in fact, be a benefit where vehicles are stolen for recovery and identification purposes. The registration should not be an issue.
I take an issue with the Minister for Justice and Equality's previous stance in claiming that the provisions of the present legislation "appear to provide adequate means for prosecuting offences". We do not agree and we do not believe it. That is why we are here tonight. We regularly sit on JPCs and listen to the same argument where superintendents consistently say the existing legislation does not allow gardaí to catch these offenders. They are instructing their gardaí not to pursue. The purpose of tonight's legislation is to allow for the seizure of these vehicles after the incident and not during it.
We understand the Minister is intent on opposing the Bill. I ask him not to oppose the legislation and to consider working constructively with us.
That is the manner in which the Bill has been put forward. I also ask other Members, who represent urban communities and who are sick and tired of this plague in their communities, to constructively work with us on it. We will work with Members from all sides of the House to refine this legislation, to give gardaí the power and authority to seize these vehicles and to take them out of our communities before somebody else is seriously injured.
I thank Deputies Curran and Lahart for introducing this measure which identifies a problem. I believe we share a determination to resolve it. My only difficulty is that whereas we share the knowledge that the problem exists and the resolve to sort it out, I do not believe this Bill will advance doing that in any way. I will explain to the Deputies the reason I believe that. I will take up their offer and am happy to make my officials available, and to be available myself, to progress resolving this problem and to include other Deputies who are interested in this issue, and I know Deputy Ellis has been interested in it for a long time. However, there is not an easy solution to it. I will set out the reasons their Bill is not acceptable but in the future let us get together and sort this out. This is a significant difficulty, mostly in urban areas, in which we all have a common interest in resolving.
Scramblers and other such vehicles are designed for off-road use and are, essentially, sporting vehicles. However, anti-social, dangerous and irresponsible use of these vehicles has caused a great deal of concern. We have all heard of the horrific and life-changing injuries suffered by Ilabek Avetian who was run over by a scrambler while he and his wife were lying out in the sun last summer in Dublin. We all agree this menace must be stopped.
As I look at what Deputies Curran and Lahart are proposing, I believe we are in broad agreement on what is required. There should be clearly defined offences with appropriate penalties, and gardaí need appropriate powers, including the power to detain vehicles, either when offences occur or by entering places where they are kept. I believe we can agree too that we need a clear message that these vehicles should only be used responsibly, as is the case with every mechanically propelled vehicle.
The Government has examined this issue in some detail. Last year, as referred to by Deputies Lahart and Curran, a group was established under the co-ordination of the Department of Justice and Equality to examine it. Membership includes the Departments of Transport, Tourism and Sport and Housing, Planning and Local Government as well as An Garda Síochána and other stakeholders. A great deal of consideration has been given to whether there are any deficiencies in the law. However, the laws clearly exist both to punish offenders and to detain the vehicles where necessary. The real difficulty is with intercepting these vehicles while they are being used in a dangerous way around members of the public. As I believe Deputies will appreciate, any attempt to stop these vehicles in an area where members of the public are present could put innocent bystanders, as well as the riders of the vehicles, at risk.
While we are in agreement on the issues, I am afraid the Government cannot support this particular Bill, and I would ask the House, and Deputies Curran and Lahart, to consider with care the reasons I will give. As I will explain, the provisions of the Bill would not in fact add to existing Garda powers as intended, but would largely replicate them, while some of the new proposals would not be practicable. In doing so, the Bill risks creating confusion in the law and would, I am afraid, undermine rather than strengthen the law regarding the misuse of the vehicles in question. That is not questioning the integrity, honesty or intention of those who are proposing it but is stating that it is not really workable.
Let us consider what the Bill is proposing. Section 2 would allow gardaí to confiscate and dispose of a scrambler or other similar vehicle where, in the opinion of the member, it was being used contrary to the Road Traffic Acts or the Public Oder Act without a clearly visible registration plate. Gardaí already have power to detain a vehicle without a number plate, and in a variety of other circumstances. I recognise the proposal here goes further, and envisages confiscation and disposal of the vehicle, not just temporary detention. That raises two problems. The first is proportionality. Confiscation would apply only to all-terrain vehicles and scramblers - the same offence, with a different type of vehicle, would not lead to confiscation. The much larger problem is constitutional. The Constitution guarantees property rights. Property can be confiscated in some circumstances, but I hope Deputies Curran and Lahart will recognise on reflection that confiscation based on the opinion of a garda, as opposed to a conviction in court, would be a step too far, and would invite constitutional challenge. Section 3 envisages confiscation as a penalty on conviction, in certain circumstances, for dangerous driving. While I do not object in principle to the idea of confiscation as a penalty, I have to say it is not fully thought-out here. First, it takes no account of whether the person convicted of dangerous driving is the owner of the vehicle. If he or she is not, the Bill would mean punishing the owner with confiscation of his or her vehicle even though he or she would not have been convicted of anything.
Second, the offence of dangerous driving is divided into two classes. Cases where death or serious injury are involved are tried on indictment - that is, before a jury - while other cases are tried summarily, which is to say before a judge only. The Bill is proposing confiscation as an optional additional penalty for the summary cases only. This would create a very unbalanced situation, with confiscation a penalty in less serious cases but not in more serious ones. I should note that a person convicted of dangerous driving, summarily or on indictment, is already prevented from driving by receiving a consequential disqualification.
Section 3 would also create separately a new power for gardaí to seize and dispose of all-terrain vehicles and scramblers used for dangerous driving. This raises again the constitutional problem of permanent confiscation based on the discretion of a garda. It also brings us back to proportionality - an all-terrain vehicle or a scrambler could be confiscated at Garda discretion, whereas any other vehicle could be confiscated only as a penalty on conviction. The Bill would add confiscation of a vehicle as a penalty for supplying a vehicle to a minor. This is in section 4. Minors cannot legally drive a mechanically propelled vehicle in a public place, and gardaí already have the power to detain a vehicle on the basis that the driver or rider is too young to be licensed to drive the vehicle. However, the Bill would confiscate the vehicle from the minor based on the conviction of the supplier. This raises serious questions regarding the law - the person convicted is the supplier, but the person punished is the holder of the vehicle. I believe this would be highly problematic, and I can foresee challenges in the courts.
Now we come to the proposal in section 5 to amend the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994. The Public Order Act falls within the responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality. The Minister is of the view that sufficient powers to charge people for dangerous or anti-social use of scramblers and other such vehicles already exist in the legislation. The 1994 Act primarily deals with what could be considered traditional public order offences which can occur in public places - for example, disorderly conduct, threatening behaviour, etc. It does this in a general rather than specific manner, in the hope of avoiding the inadvertent exclusion of non-specified types of threatening behaviour or nuisance activity which may occur in public places.
Over the last 12 months, the Minister for Justice and Equality has consulted a number of stakeholders on this issue. Legal advice, received from the Office of the Attorney General last year, noted that, in principle, there would appear to he no difficulty in prosecuting a person who commits a public order offence with these vehicles under the current public order legislation. Importantly, An Garda Síochána shares this view. Therefore, it is the view of the Minister for Justice and Equality that the proposed change in section 5 of the present Bill would not add in any meaningful way to Garda powers in relation to public order.
Section 6 makes a number of proposals. It would require the Minister to make regulations within three months of the enactment of the Bill to allow the removal of all-terrain vehicles or scramblers from the curtilage of a dwelling where a garda is of the opinion that it has been used in an offence under this Act - in other words, an offence created by this Bill. While the Bill would create a new offence under the Public Order Act, there are no offences under the Bill itself. This means that the provision of regulations would be a dead letter. Happily, gardaí can already enter the curtilage of a dwelling to seize vehicles suspected of use in an offence.
Next, the section would require the Minister and the Minister for Finance to report on the establishment of a database of all-terrain vehicles, with a view to ensuring that all such vehicles are registered on my Department’s national vehicle and driver file, the NVDF. This proposal requires a report on the creation of a database, but does not require the creation of that database, except implicitly. Furthermore, if the goal is to have all-terrain vehicles listed on the NVDF, why would we create a new database for them first?
Another problem, and one I must emphasise, is that the proposal to create a new database, even if it is implicit, would mean incurring costs and, as such, this Bill requires a money message. Specifically, we would need to consider how much establishing a new database would cost the Exchequer in capital terms and whether its management would generate extra costs too. Every mechanically propelled vehicle used in a public place is already required to be registered on the NVDF. If some owners do not register their vehicles, creating a new database would not fix the problem.
An additional difficulty, and I ask Deputies Curran and Lahart to consider this carefully, is that the Bill refers to all all-terrain vehicles, not just those being used in a public place. Many all-terrain vehicles are used exclusively on farms. Do they really intend to put an added burden of cost and administration on the farming community? I am sure that is not what they intend but it would be the result.
It should come as no surprise to anyone that Fianna Fáil has put together a Bill on quads and scramblers that is both ill-thought through and focused on forthcoming local elections. In October 2018, the Sinn Féin spokesperson on transport, Deputy Imelda Munster, and I brought to the Dáil a comprehensive Bill to regulate quads and scramblers. We made it clear at the time that we would give consideration to any concerns the Government or Fianna Fáil had with our Bill and, if they voted to allow the Bill to pass to the next Stage, their concerns could be addressed. I made this clear to both the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on transport. We brought our Bill to the Dáil and Fianna Fáil, along with the Government, voted against it. In 2014, I was also opposed by Fine Gael on a similar Bill.
Since then, those in Fianna Fáil have felt the backlash not just from local communities but also from their local councillors and support base. At every forum meeting and policing committee meeting, this issue has come to the fore. Senior gardaí have admitted there is a serious problem with the definition of a public space, as we outlined in the past. While I do not know what this committee has come back with, this comes up as an issue at every meeting I attend.
In my constituency of Dublin North-West, the community was incensed that the Government and Fianna Fáil colluded together to vote down our Bill. In fact, according to an article in The Local Newson 6 December, "furious" Fianna Fáil councillor, Paul McAuliffe, believes that the Sinn Féin Bill took an “arguable position” on scrambler and quad bike legislation. In fact, Councillor McAuliffe told The Local News, “All I can say is that, if I’d been in the Dáil myself, none of this would have happened”.
On 18 April, in the Dublin Gazettenewspaper, the sponsors of the Bill, Fianna Fáil Deputies Lahart and Curran are quoted as saying, “Existing road traffic legislation does not apply to green spaces, housing estates or public parks, which are the very places where these vehicles are most commonly used”. The Deputies are absolutely right and the Sinn Féin Bill would have dealt with this anomaly, but they chose to vote it down for political reasons.
The Bill, as presented, will not prevent the illegal use of quads and scramblers in public parks and greens. This is a fundamental flaw in the Bill and, as we identified in the Sinn Féin Bill, there is also a flaw in the Road Traffic Act, as everyone is aware. The antisocial activity associated with the use of these vehicles in these areas will continue unabated. Unfortunately, since the Sinn Féin Bill was voted down, there have been further fatalities and injuries resulting from the illegal use of quads and scramblers. Any attempt to seize vehicles in such places will most likely result in legal challenges. In fact, if such a vehicle is seized, it will most likely not be destroyed and will be returned to the owner. We have no problem in further penalising those who illegally use quads and scramblers and are engaged in serious antisocial activity. However, if this Bill continues to the next Stage, I will call for a review of the penalties handed out for road traffic offences as this Bill would create an inconsistency in that more serious road traffic offences would, in theory, receive lesser penalties.
Let us make it clear. The Fianna Fáil Bill is seriously flawed, most importantly because it simply does not address the anomaly created by the definition of a public space. The illegal use of quads and scramblers will continue in parks and greens. Unfortunately, and I honestly say this with great regret, this Bill does nothing to seriously tackle the problem these vehicles cause throughout local communities. These communities will continue to suffer from the sort of antisocial activity we are continuing to experience while a legal grey area exists on their use in parks and greens. The Bill does not resolve this crucial issue. If the Deputies are so convinced that under the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act, they can give a broad definition of a public place, including parks and green spaces, why was it not feasible to do the same under the Road Traffic Act? That is a question they need to answer.
To give an example, a few weeks ago, two scramblers were seized in Tolka Valley Park by gardaí after an hour of chasing, and they eventually caught one person. That person was on a stolen motorbike and, lo and behold, under the law the person can be charged with possession of stolen property but not with illegal driving or reckless driving because of where and how this motorbike was seized.
Unlike Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin will not play politics with this serious issue. We will support this Bill, knowing it is a flawed Bill, and if it goes to the next Stage, we will endeavour to amend it accordingly.
As Deputy Ellis and others said, this is an issue that plagues many communities in this city but also the beyond the city. The Dáil record shows there was a debate in 2014 with the then Minister of State, Tom Hayes. He came into the House with a four-page script but I do not think he knew what was in it because one of the towns in his own area of Tipperary, Cahir, was also being plagued by scramblers and quads being driven illegally with the intent to do damage to unused spaces or public spaces. That was addressed by the council by blocking off the specific spaces. We do not have the luxury of doing this in some of the areas that are being plagued in my own constituency because they are public parks. Any time the gates are blocked up or changed to prevent scramblers from going into the parks, the people just break down the fence, causing criminal damage. While they should be arrested for criminal damage, as happens in many communities, the CCTV cameras do not seem to catch that activity.
The amount of damage to football pitches and playing areas for kids is horrendous but we must also consider the number of people who have been injured while carrying out this activity. The Minister mentioned the Armenian man who lost an eye while he was sunbathing when a scrambler landed on top of him, although he was not partaking of the scrambling or the wrecking of public play areas. There are people who have died in my constituency and elsewhere in this city. There was one incident a number of Christmases ago and, the following Christmas, the exact same thing happened. Luckily, the young fellow in that case did not die but he was left with horrific injuries.
Any other vehicle of this size, whether a car or otherwise, would be seized because it would be a danger not only to the person driving but also to the public.
The law will have to catch up sometime. Moreover, the Garda should be fully resourced. A big problem in most of the communities plagued with this problem is not just a lack of enforcement but a lack of gardaí to carry out enforcement. We in Ballyfermot thought we were very lucky to get seven gardaí recently, but six of them were very quickly seconded out of Ballyfermot to somewhere else. That did not help to address any issues.
There is also a need to address some of the young people who are involved in this type of activity. I know that local youth services are directly involved with some of those who in the past could be found scrambling, running amuck and wrecking community spaces. Those young people's behaviour has been addressed, but other young people in the background then seem to pick it up. Anybody who lives in those communities knows full well what it is like to wake up on a Sunday morning and hear no end of scrambling, especially around Christmas time. Something must be done to address the fact that these high-powered vehicles are being sold to parents who then pass them on to young kids. I have seen them myself. Some of these kids are five, six or seven years old. They are barely hanging on. I do not know what kind of lunatic parent puts a child in charge of something like that with no training, no expertise and in many cases no helmet. Accident and emergency departments then end up trying to help a young person whose head is split open over the Christmas period.
I understand that legislation takes a while to get ready and I understand the arguments around the public space. We all need to get on with this. In 2014 I spoke about the Bill introduced by Deputy Ellis. We were raising this issue before that. This is urgent. We must act before somebody else loses a life. When that happens communities will be demanding what we have done apart from sitting here and talking. We need a bit of action.
I am really happy to have the opportunity to speak on this very important Bill. Unfortunately I do not believe it will address the issues. As my colleague Deputy Ellis said, if it passes Second Stage, which we will support, we will be moving amendments. This is a massive problem in my constituency of Limerick City. In estates across the city quads, dirt bikes and scramblers are driven on public spaces and parks, causing problems for local people. They are a danger to children and result in intimidation for many residents. They cannot live safely in their own homes, which we should be entitled to do but unfortunately cannot. Many green areas and public parks are destroyed using these scramblers. Local sports teams sometimes show up to play a match only to find the pitch has been torn up by people driving scramblers around them. This exact thing happened at the beginning of this year in Geraldines AFC in Garryowen. People broke into the club and caused €10,000 worth of damage to the pitch by rallying scrambler bikes around on it. It is disgraceful. My colleague, Mr. John Nugent, who lives in the area, has been very vocal on this issue. Something needs to be done urgently.
Many elderly people are living in fear in their own communities. They do not want to venture outside when these people are on scramblers. Many of these bikes are powerful and incredibly dangerous, as we saw in the tragic case that occurred in Darndale Park. Unfortunately, gardaí are limited in how they can tackle this problem. The law as it stands prohibits the use of these all-terrain vehicles, ATVs, on public roads unless fully insured and taxed. There is a loophole in the legislation which allows people to use these vehicles in public spaces for antisocial behaviour and avoid any penalties.
This is why Sinn Féin brought forward the Road Traffic (Quads and Scramblers) (Amendment) Bill 2017, which aimed to give An Garda the ability to stop individuals using scramblers in public parks or unused space. It would also have given them the power to impound scrambler bikes or quad bikes used illegally on private or public property. The aim of this legislation was not to criminalise users of these vehicles but to keep those who use scrambler bikes and the general public safe. Unfortunately, Fianna Fáil and that party's partners in government, Fine Gael, decided to block the Sinn Féin Bill, which has resulted in the problem of scramblers continuing. I know from talking to people in Limerick that it has gone on to this day.
As my colleagues have said, this Bill only provides for the seizure of these vehicles and their disposal if the vehicle is not displaying a registration plate. It would do nothing about people operating unregistered quads or scramblers in parks and greens. It would allow the antisocial activity to continue without sanction and offers no solution to the illegal use of such vehicles in parks and greens. Unfortunately, this Fianna Fáil Bill is simply not good enough. It will not solve this problem and in my opinion it has been scheduled for debate tonight simply for election purposes.
There was recently a bizarre situation in the Limerick local media, when the Fianna Fáil candidates stood up and spoke about the need to legislate for quad bikes while their Deputies here opposed the Bill which would have done that. Deputy Ellis and my colleagues in the previous Dáil introduced a Bill in 2012, which was debated in 2014. That was defeated as well. The Minister finished his statement tonight by asking Deputies Lahart and Curran to withdraw their Bill but he provided no solution himself. I really believe the Minister has no interest in doing this. The reason he has no interest in solving this problem is that it is affecting working-class areas. If this was happening in south Dublin the Minister would have legislation ready and it would be his priority Bill. The first Bill he would introduce in the Dáil would be to stop it. This would not happen in the estate where the Minister lives. It is unfortunately allowed to happen in working-class areas across the State, not just here in Dublin but also in Limerick. People in those estates are citizens of this country. They deserve to live safely and securely in their own homes and the Minister will not legislate for it. I am asking him to do so now.
The Labour Party supported the Sinn Féin Bill on this matter at the end of last year and we will support this Bill. Somebody needs to address this issue. It is welcome yet again to have a debate in the House aimed at tackling this illegal and dangerous use of quad bikes and all-terrain vehicles. We need legislation to address the issue and we all need to keep the pressure on. There is a momentum in this House to tackle this issue. Elements of this Bill are very welcome.
What this Bill lacks, which we can perhaps look at on later Stages, is an answer to one of the existing problems. Gardaí feel they cannot enforce the law that is already there. In regard to seizing quads and scramblers, the Minister for Justice and Equality made two points in reply to a parliamentary question on 12 July 2017. He noted:
...the use of mechanically propelled vehicles, MPVs, including quad bikes and scramblers, in a public place is subject to the relevant requirements of road traffic legislation... [The vehicles] must comply with the Road Traffic Acts, including in terms of motor tax, insurance and possession of a valid driver licence or learner permit. Under the Acts, any member of An Garda Síochána is allowed to stop an MPV in a public place and demand production of a driver licence. In addition, gardaí may inspect the vehicle for compliance with vehicle standards legislation, which makes it an offence to drive without reasonable consideration, in a careless manner or dangerously. The Garda authorities also have powers of seizure, detention, storage and disposal of vehicles under the road traffic code.
The Minister went on to say:
Despite the road traffic and other relevant legislation available in this area, the Garda authorities have indicated that the use of quad bikes and scramblers by minors and youths in public parks has proven difficult to deal with from an enforcement perspective. Garda members are instructed not to pursue youths on quad bikes, scramblers and so on owing to the inherent safety risk in pursuing these vehicles. If such pursuits were to take place, there would be a high risk of them ending in collisions at speed, resulting in serious injury or death. As a result, bringing these vehicles to a stop is challenging.
This seems to indicate a policing issue about the practicality of stopping young offenders on dangerous vehicles rather than an issue around the legal authority to do so. On receiving our own legal advice the Labour Party has some sympathy for that position. We recognise the difficulties. This needs to be addressed and we all need to work together to bring about some kind of legislation to try to work this out.
The problem surrounding the misuse of quad bikes and scramblers has become more and more prevalent in the last five years. In the last three years more than 180 people have been injured in accidents involving off-road vehicles. I mentioned some particularly tragic cases in a previous debate on this topic. I will not go through them again. The Minister referred to one of them and Deputy Ó Snodaigh referred to another. The common problem behind these preventable accidents is the fact that some owners of quad bikes or scrambler motorcycles believe they can get away with using their vehicles wherever and whenever they choose. While the Road Traffic Act 1961 restricts the use of these off-road vehicles in public places, it has always been interpreted as applying only to public roads and not parks etc., as other Deputies have mentioned. However, as the public knows some owners unlawfully use their off-road vehicles in public places such as parks, greens, housing estates and other public and private properties.
When they do that, they endanger pedestrians who frequent public places with erratic and rash driving of their vehicles. There have been many reports of those vehicles being unlawfully used in anti-social behaviour in my constituency in the Ward River Valley in Swords and in areas throughout Fingal, such as Balbriggan beach, Donabate and Portmarnock.
The Bill does not ban the vehicles completely because there is an acknowledgement that many owners drive their vehicles responsibly and safely in designated areas such as on motocross tracks or in designated off-road areas. Instead, it makes sure that those individuals who use such vehicles for anti-social purposes to carelessly drive through parks or green areas, to speed through housing estates doing wheelies and revving their engines to irritate the inhabitants of the neighbourhood and to terrorise innocent people just for fun, will not get away with such behaviour. We must address the issue collectively. If individuals cannot drive responsibly, they not only put other individuals in danger but they also put themselves in danger.
A number of accidents, some fatal, have been caused by two individuals on scrambler motorcycles colliding or driving into parked cars. By restricting where such vehicles can lawfully drive, we would hold them accountable to safe driving practices, not just for the safety of the public but also for their own safety, as we need to protect them as well. The sad fact is that many owners of such vehicles who engage in anti-social behaviour are young and inexperienced drivers who seek the thrill of driving recklessly and think it is above the odds that they will be involved in an accident. Therefore, we must go above and beyond to make sure that while they may not see the imminent danger in which they put others and themselves, the Oireachtas must plan in advance to protect them from themselves. It is important that the national Government addresses the issue. Some local councils have brought in by-laws to try to curb the havoc such vehicles create but the Garda has difficulty enforcing the laws especially in many of the areas that were not, but will now be, covered by the amended legislation.
There is a dire need for legislation such as the Bill before the House that addresses the unlawful use of quad bikes and scrambler motorbikes. The Minister set out the problems with the previous Bill and he has problems with this Bill. We must join together to find a Bill that will work. The Bill is a step in the right direction. We have lost too many people in the reckless usage of such vehicles. I have sympathy with what Deputy Quinlivan from Limerick said about it being a working class problem. I agree with his observation that if this was a problem in south Dublin there would be more focus on it. Let us make sure we do everything we can to assist the Garda to enforce existing and future laws to break the scourge of quad bikes in public spaces. While the Bill is welcome, the difficulty of enforcement will probably still remain. Finding a solution to that problem will not be easy but we should work together to try to find it.
It is a bit like déjà vubecause it is not that long ago that we were here discussing Deputy Ellis's Bill, which also sought to address the same concerns we are talking about tonight, namely, scramblers and quad bikes being used in inappropriate ways in places where they should not be, legally, and by age groups that should not be in possession of such vehicles. We also then spoke about the lack of adequate legislation, and where there is legislation the difficulty of enforcing it. In the previous debate we were all agreed on the concerns everybody had and there was a genuine desire on all sides of the House to try to sort it out. We agreed on the need for collaboration and consensus in order to bring that about. However, it did not happen and here we are again. In the meantime the situation is worsening.
Quad bikes and scramblers can be used in a very positive way by those who have them as functional vehicles for work on farms, beach patrols by lifeguards, by rangers and for use in other activities. Problems arise when they are used in a particular urban setting and most of that is associated with an anti-social element. The vehicles are off-road vehicles and they present problems in highly populated urban spaces, especially in open parks. Dublin Central has also seen fatalities, including one on Christmas Day a few years ago. Christmas morning does present particular problems because the parks and roads are generally much emptier, which presents an opportunity for those with scramblers and quad bikes to drive them at very high speeds. In the majority of cases, unfortunately, the users do not have safety helmets and they do not have documentation. There is an element of bravado involved because it is a form of ego trip and young people spur each other on to go even faster.
The Garda has some powers to stop and confiscate such vehicles. Gardaí have been very forthright at community policing forum meetings I have attended. They said they are cautious because they are aware of the dangers of giving chase, as sometimes that just fuels the activity because some young people want to be chased by the Garda. Gardaí must be cautious because there could be serious accidents and public safety must be at the core of their work. They have come in for criticism because they do not go after the young people involved, but I understand where they are coming from given the thrill bike riders get from being chased by the Garda. It is especially difficult on a Christmas morning when one can imagine the attempts of gardaí to take scramblers and quad bikes from young children who get them from Santy. I do not know what Santy is doing giving gifts of quad bikes. In many cases, it would cause even more mayhem if the gardaí went into some areas to try to take quad bikes away.
There is a need for a public awareness campaign so that young people become more aware. We have had public awareness campaigns for drink driving, seat belts and using mobile phones in cars, with a certain amount of success so perhaps something similar could be used in this regard. An awareness campaign for parents is important because I do not know why a parent would buy a small child a quad or scrambler. It is like giving them a lethal weapon because quads and scramblers are lethal. Neither do I understand how the vendors get away with selling them without having much better safety measures in place and without ensuring that a safety helmet is also purchased, at the very least.
When we were discussing Deputy Ellis's Bill I mentioned a successful project run by Dublin City Council with a motocross club on the Alfie Byrne Road. People could go to a designated area with their scramblers and quad bikes and it was supervised. Riders were not pursued and they had to wear safety helmets. We know that risk taking is part of being young and that would be one practical way of trying to minimise the risk.
It is sad to hear old people, or those who are not so old, say they are afraid to go into a public park because quad bikes and scramblers could be there and they are afraid of being knocked down. In reality, quad bikes and scramblers will be purchased but I do not think we should allow them to be sold to people aged under 18. There must be some way that those in the trade would have to prove that they are not selling them to people who are under 18. I accept that would be difficult to administer and implement. Does the penalty for supplying a vehicle to those aged under 18, with the possibility of imprisonment, include parents who buy them for children, not just the seller?
I am in favour of having designated areas for motocross in certain areas because such activity is associated with particular areas. An awareness of appropriate use is also important, as are the safety aspects that are needed, registration plates and some type of licence or test. There seems to be more regulation around jet skis than there is for quad bikes and scramblers. I would also like rickshaws to be included in the legislation. Would the Bill apply to mechanically propelled rickshaws? In general, rickshaws need to be addressed. Again, there is no licence, no test and no insurance. Some drivers are responsible but we have many examples of irresponsible drivers who do U-turns on very busy streets. In addition, they are undercutting the taxi industry. There may be a novelty element to it but taxi drivers are paying tax and insurance and other hefty bills as well.
I read a recent article by a garda on the use of quad bikes and scramblers, in particular among underage people. One garda described the situation as now reaching epidemic proportions. Children as young as six are found riding a motocross in public parks in Dublin. He also stopped teenagers under 18 and tested them for drugs and alcohol and the tests proved positive. Reports from Temple Street Hospital show young people have received life-threatening injuries connected with the use of quad bikes and scramblers. There must be an awareness that quad bikes and scramblers are not toys. They are heavy, dangerous pieces of machinery and they can cause life-changing injuries or death. Those issues are still not being addressed. We hoped for so much at the time we discussed Deputy Ellis's Bill because the Minister did seem to be concerned about taking on this issue. He addressed certain criticisms he had with the Bill but they have not yet been addressed and, in the meantime, the situation is worsening.
I am pleased to contribute briefly to the debate on the Bill. I compliment my colleagues in Fianna Fáil on bringing it forward. It is very worthy and necessary. No Member wants to be a killjoy, but we must deal with these dangerous vehicles. They are not toys. Although I sympathise with communities or estates which are experiencing anti-social activity related to scrambler or quad activity of the sort referred to by other Members, the Bill may be a step too far and may not be proportionate. Of course, it is very difficult to get the balance right in any legislation.
The Bill proposes to make further provision for the seizure by An Garda Síochána of said vehicles and motorcycles in certain circumstances and provide for the confiscation and disposal of same where a person contravenes the law on the use of all-terrain vehicles and scrambler motorcycles in a public place. These vehicles should not be used in a public place. However, to get the legislation right and have it implemented and enforced is another issue.
I am from a rural background and own a quad which is used for mountain and hill sheep farming, with which the Leas-Cheann Comhairle is very familiar on the hills and slopes of County Donegal. The quad is a necessary tool, but it is extremely dangerous. A former president of the Irish Farmers Association broke his leg in a quad bike accident. They are very dangerous vehicles. Bulls, rams and other animals on farms may cause trouble, but these vehicles are very dangerous on rough and other terrain if operated by the wrong people because they have such powerful traction. They would be able to go up the steps beside where the Minister is sitting and might tumble back down on top of somebody. There have been many fatalities and injuries. That is a completely different matter from the one Deputy Curran and others are trying to address with the Bill. Although quads are a necessary and invaluable tool to get around to assess crops and animals in inclement weather conditions such as snow, they must be treated with the utmost respect.
It is very important that the vehicles be prohibited in public places such as parks and other recreational areas. One should need a licence to drive them, which would ensure that, at a minimum, people would have a provisional licence and done some theory tests. There is a role for schools in this matter. I recently met a principal who said everything was being left to schools. However, there needs to be an holistic education of young people on the dangers of these machines, as was done to meet the danger posed by certain animals. Quads and scrambler bikes may look great and young people may see them scrambling through the mountains and so on on television programmes or in films and may wish to be able to be take part in that wonderful activity, but the inherent dangers are incredible. I know several young people who were paralysed in serious accidents and for whom we are fundraising to provide for rehab care and recovery. Some of them will never walk again; certainly, they will never get on a quad or a motorbike.
We must be very careful about where and how these vehicles are used. Legislation is needed, but consideration must be given to how it will be implemented. One cannot expect a garda on the beat or in a squad car to follow these vehicles because of their speed and the way in which they are able to escape. Someone causing trouble on a quad or scrambler in a park will be able to go over a ditch and be gone without a trace. All one will be left with will be the smell of the bike's exhaust fumes. Although the young people involved in such activities may get an adrenaline rush from them, they are very dangerous. We have heard evidence from people who were lying on beaches or in a park and were driven over. That is extremely reckless behaviour which must be stamped out. It is very important that we recognise the danger posed by these vehicles and the damage they can cause. There are also dangers involved in their usage in farm and agricultural activities such as young people having access to them on family farms. I do not know how it will be policed, but it must. People must be taught to respect the inherent dangers posed by the vehicles, their sheer power and speed and, above all, the damage they can do. A person who falls off one of them at 20 miles per hour, let alone 30 miles per hour or 50 miles per hour, has no protection whatsoever. I acknowledge that the problem in Dublin must be dealt with, although I only have anecdotal evidence of what happens there and in other cities and towns.
The Minister, Deputy Ross, is very fond of the RSA and has given it sweeping powers in many areas in respect of tractors, cars, young drivers and so on. I attend shows and other events and often see quads at them. I was at an event last Sunday at which little bikes and quads were for sale. Children love them. Anyone can buy them as there are no restrictions on their sale. That issue must be investigated and we must ensure they are not purchased as birthday or Christmas presents. We all need to be re-educated and re-evaluate the potential hazards and the danger they can cause. We need to strike a balance between the right to have a mechanically propelled vehicle and the safety of other amenity users and people who wish to use recreational areas without fearing or enduring the noise, fumes and, above all, speed of quad bikes or scramblers driven by thrill seekers. I do not oppose the use of quads for farming purposes, but extreme caution and care are needed. The RSA needs to wake up and deal with these mechanically propelled vehicles.
The Minister has not set a good example. I recently saw him pictured in a publication. I am all for the simulator vehicles which the RSA brings to roadshows in order to show young people how they could be seriously injured in an overturning car, particularly if they are not wearing a seat belt. The RSA puts up very clear signs stating one may not go on the simulators if one is under 16 years or over 60. However, I saw a picture of the Minister in one of those vehicles. What a way to educate young people. I do not know what age the Minister is, but he is certainly well over 60 years. I have passed that milestone and he has been around far longer than I have. He should know better than to recklessly go on a simulator. A sign in front of it clearly stated those over 60 years should not do so. What image is he portraying to young people - that the guy up in Dublin who hates rural Ireland, the ordinary people going for a pint and those who want to obtain a driving licence to drive to school or college is recklessly upside down in a simulator? It is outrageous that he would be so reckless as to ignore those signs. We are here to try to pass legislation. Such recklessness is nothing new for the Minister who has been reckless since he became Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. The sooner the Government falls and disbands and he is out of it, the better. It will be good riddance to bad rubbish. I mean nothing personal, but it was completely reckless of him to get into the simulator which is brought to schools, sites and shows to warn young people of the dangers involved in driving. My goodness - the Minister is the thrill seeker. It was not very thrilling, but it was downright stupidity. It was bizarre and reckless behaviour engaged in by the Minister, but sin scéal eile. That is why he is keeping the Government in place. He needs to take a few training courses in order to learn to respect legislation that is printed and put in front of him.
The purpose of this Bill, introduced by Fianna Fáil, is to tackle the scourge of scrambler bikes, the owners of which are terrorising communities. Between 2014 and the end of 2017, a total of 39 people lost their lives on scramblers and quad bikes. Three in four of those individuals were children. I was shocked when I discovered that 39 people had died in the space of four years. In 2017 alone, 62 people were injured in accidents involving quad bikes and scramblers. These bikes can be dangerous. They may not have very large engines but they have a high power-to-weight ratio because they are so light.
While gardaí do their best to police the use of these bikes, it must be noted that there is legal lacuna in respect of them because the road traffic legislation is not applicable to green spaces and parks where they are most commonly used. The Garda has warned of an epidemic of the use of motocross and quad bikes among teenagers. Reports have surfaced of children as young as six years old operating these vehicles. If a six year old was behind the wheel of a car, would we adopt the same attitude? Even when gardaí see a bike being driven in an illegal manner on public roads, the driver simply drives off the road and prevents them from taking any action. This Bill will address the fact that existing road traffic laws do not apply in the areas to which I refer.
When used on private property, these vehicles do not require tax discs or insurance under current law. They are supposed to be taxed and insured when used on public roads, however, so the Bill does not create a new requirement for legitimate users. For the first time, the Bill will make it an offence to ride a quad or scrambler bike in a public place in an antisocial manner. This will allow gardaí to seize bikes that are being ridden in a threatening or annoying manner. They can then be disposed of in accordance with the relevant laws. We believe this will effectively clamp down on the all too common practice of riding quad and scrambler bikes around parks, housing estates and green spaces in a way that threatens and endangers local residents. It is unfair that residents are terrorised by those using these vehicles and are unable to enjoy their local amenities. Furthermore, allowing gardaí to seize quad and scrambler bikes that have been sold or supplied to children will protect children, particularly as it is they who are very often involved in scrambler bike accidents. Of the 39 people who lost their lives on scrambler bikes between 2014 and 2017 - an appalling number - three quarters, or 30, were children.
There were also reports recently of stolen scrambler bikes being ridden at high speeds on pavements and footpaths. A man sunbathing in a park in north Dublin last year was struck by a bike and lost his left eye and suffered multiple fractures. If accidentally struck by one of these bikes at high speed, there is a much greater risk of high-impact spinal and back injuries than from activities such as playing soccer or trampolining. That is according to orthopaedic surgeon and motorcycle rider Keith Synnott. When walking in the woods near my home, I have encountered scrambler bikes that were operated by adults in a safe and responsible manner. I wish to make it clear that this Bill targets those who are not responsible. Plenty of users are responsible and enjoy using these bikes.
The Bill does not create new requirements for quad and scrambler bikes that are used solely on private property such as farms. The Minister, Deputy Ross, referred to the impact what is proposed would have on farms but it does not have an impact on them.
The Bill will increase the penalties for supplying these bikes to underage people. It is simply irresponsible and reckless to supply these bikes to children. The Bill will increase the maximum fine for doing so to €5,000. It will also allow gardaí to seize a bike that has been illegally supplied.
The Bill directs the Minister to establish a national vehicle register for these vehicles to increase the accountability of their owners. Too often, quad and scrambler bikes are not registered to an owner, which makes it difficult for the Garda to enforce the laws relating to them. The Bill will require the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to introduce regulations to allow the Garda to remove such bikes from the curtilage of a home. This increased accountability and transparency will have a positive effect for the owners and operators of quad bikes and, hopefully, will result in a reduction in the number of deaths and injuries.
I acknowledge the work my colleagues, Deputies Lahart and Curran, have done on this legislation. This problem is a scourge and a terror for many communities in Dublin. In every residents' association and at every public meeting there is a consistent trend of issues with scrambler bikes. People ranging from young children to those in their early twenties are terrorising communities. Children are not allowed onto green spaces because of scramblers being ridden through those spaces and through communities. The danger to children and young people in playgrounds and elsewhere is very serious.
As has been mentioned, 39 people, three quarters of them children, have lost their lives and there have been many injuries. An innocent man out sunbathing, Ilabek Avetian, lost an eye and was in a coma because of the impact of a scrambler. The fact that in 2019 there is still no regulation or oversight and a legal lacuna means that action is required. The Fianna Fáil Bill accurately addresses that legislative lacuna.
I listened to what Deputy Ellis had to say. Sinn Féin does not own this issue. We have a collective responsibility to deal with it properly. My colleague, Councillor Paul McAuliffe, in the Finglas-Ballymun area has done excellent work with the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party in driving and progressing this Bill. Public representatives like him want to work in a collaborative manner with other parties. Sinn Féin does not own this issue; no party owns it. We have a responsibility to do something, given the lives that have been lost and those who have been injured.
As with other legislative measures, we saw the headline about scrambler bikes but what was Sinn Féin proposing to do? It was proposing to amend and further complicate the Road Traffic Acts, which would have had a limited impact in addressing the issue.
This Bill seeks to achieve a few things. It will be an offence to ride a scrambler bike in a public place where it is antisocial. It gives the Garda the power to seize and dispose of or destroy these bikes. I have heard gardaí state at public meetings that the children's parents have collected the scrambler bikes from An Garda Síochána because of the lacuna in our legislation. The Bill seeks to address that. That was absent from the Sinn Féin Bill.
When it comes to protecting children and our communities, there is a responsibility to have a national vehicle database to ensure there is an accountability element at the point of sale for the people who purchase the bikes and for those who sell the scrambler bikes. That was not addressed in the other legislation.
In addition, there must be accountability with regard to a registry for owners. That is proposed in the Bill.
Our party is constructive and if there are amendments on which we can work with the Government and other parties, my colleagues will facilitate them in order that we can have the best legislation possible. However, it is important to take action in respect of this issue. We have waited too long. The fact that lives have been lost is a scandal. Children cannot play in the open spaces. I received emails in the past two weeks from people who use the Royal Canal Greenway in Ashtown and the Dublin 7 and 15 areas. They are being terrorised. The greenway was meant to be a cycleway and a place where people could run, walk and enjoy the canal. However, scramblers are travelling up and down each evening, terrorising the local community. We have a responsibility to do something about that.
With all due respect to the Minister, it is not good enough to wait for another working group and another report and review. The Garda is clear that it needs assistance with this and the legislative lacuna to be addressed. All the officials in local authorities have reflected that in their responses to us as public representatives. A consistent trend over this Government's tenure is a lack of delivery to communities. It has not delivered on legislation regarding scrambler bikes. That is why we are seeking to work with the Government to provide it. Opposing the Bill because the Government has promised its own legislation is not good enough. We have seen that happen in other areas and there has been no delivery.
When I canvass and attend public meetings, I encounter people's total frustration with this issue. It is the same few reckless and irresponsible parents and children who own and use these bikes. We will address that. We will address it at the point of sale, make it an offence to ride the scrambler bike, establish the national vehicle database and give the Garda the power it needs to seize those vehicles. I heard some of the script read by the Sinn Féin Member and I have heard some Sinn Féin public representatives attack this party for trying to do the right thing now. Sinn Féin does not own this issue. We all have a collective responsibility to address it. I hope the Government will facilitate this Bill through to Committee Stage and that it does not seek to obfuscate and block it, as it has done with other legislative measures.
I am pleased that we have had the opportunity to discuss the matter of dangerous use of scramblers and other vehicles. We all agree that it is a serious issue and that it needs to be addressed. As the Minister said, regrettably, the Government cannot support this Bill. We have examined the issues involved, including the legislation, in some detail and it is clear that the difficulty is not the absence of appropriate laws but a matter of enforcement. We all know the saying that if all one has is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. It is in the nature of democracy that the Legislature's hammer is to legislate. It is all too easy to become convinced that different legislation will solve the issues of the day. Sometimes that may be true. In this case, it is not. If it was and if An Garda Síochána was to identify gaps in the legislation, the Government would be happy to respond and address those gaps.
This Bill is well-intentioned, as the Minister has acknowledged, but the problem here is not legislation. Even if it was, there are serious difficulties that mean we could not accept this Bill. Based on the opinion of a garda, gardaí already have the power to detain vehicles temporarily in many circumstance but we cannot legislate to confiscate and dispose of property based on an opinion. We cannot reasonably say we will confiscate a vehicle used in a case of dangerous driving if the driver and the owner are different people. How can we put a punishment in the law directed at someone who is not the convict?
Nor can we reasonably say, as the Bill does, that confiscation will be a punishment for less serious cases of dangerous driving but not for more serious cases. The provisions in the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act are sufficient, according to the Department of Justice and Equality. A new database of all-terrain vehicles would be subject to the same problems of people not registering as the current national vehicle and driver file, NVDF, and it is not clear why we would create a new database with inevitable cost implications only for its contents to be absorbed into the NVDF anyway, which is what the Bill envisages. This is before we take into account that the proposed new database would cover all vehicles classed as all-terrain even if they were never used on a public road. This would put a burden on the farming community, in particular where many such vehicles are used exclusively on private land.
Finally, the regulation-making powers in the Bill would have no benefit. Some are tied to offences in the Bill when there are no such offences. Offences inserted by the Bill into other Acts would not count in this regard as they are offences under those other Acts. Some powers are tied to matters referred to in the Bill as prescribed but there are no such matters.
If this Bill was to pass, it would not help in any way to address the menace of misuse of scramblers and other vehicles. It could prove counterproductive by undermining existing public order and road traffic provisions. It would certainly invite constitutional challenge. I would, therefore, ask Deputies Curran and Lahart, whose concern about the issues they have raised I acknowledge and respect, to consider the points the Minister and I have made, and to acknowledge the position that the difficulty lies with enforcement rather than with the law and to withdraw this Bill.
It is a pity the senior Minister has gone and that we do not have an opportunity to respond to him. I thank everybody from this side of the House who participated in the debate.
I will briefly summarise for the record what the Bill will do. It proposes to make riding a quad or scrambler bike in an antisocial and dangerous manner an offence under public order legislation. There would be an increase in the penalties for supplying these bikes to underage children. We know that 39 people lost their lives over four years and that three quarters of these were children. Fines would be increased for a parent. The Minister of State mentioned convicting the wrong person. It is not a question of convicting the wrong person. If a Garda calls to a house and a parent says that the child was not on the bike or that the parent owns the bike, the parent can be fined up to €5,000 under this legislation. The Bill would direct the Minister to establish a national vehicle register and require the Minister to introduce regulations.
In his reply, the Minister went on at length about property rights. What about the rights of people who live in residential areas who cannot use their parks and open spaces and who cannot walk safely through laneways without fear of a scrambler bike coming along that laneway on a back wheel riding roughshod over a neighbourhood? The Minister's response gives no indication that he is connected. One of the Deputies said this. If this was happening in Marlay Park or Leopardstown, the Minister would be all over it like a rash in terms of trying to find a solution. There is no demographic, certainly in my constituency, but what I have seen is that because it has gone unchallenged, it is beginning to grow and spread. As Deputy Ellis said, the Bill is not perfect. We are open to amendments. I know there were well-intentioned previous efforts to address it. That is water under the bridge.
The Minister's reply was very wordy. It stated that:
A great deal of consideration has been given to whether there are any deficiencies in the law. However, the laws clearly exist both to punish offenders and to detain the vehicles where necessary.
We made this point before the Minister of State came into the Chamber. In order to detain a youth on a scrambler, a garda has to catch him or her and to catch him or her, a garda has to chase and intercept him or her. Chasing and intercepting him or her puts the public at risk. That is not me saying this. As Deputy Curran and all my colleagues said, it is superintendents in regions and districts across the metropolitan area of Dublin who are saying this. They have issued instructions to rank-and-file gardaí that they are not to chase and intercept because they are putting the public at risk. The first garda on a motorcycle who runs over a child while chasing a scrambler rider would be the first person we would criticise for engaging in dangerous activity.
Not one Fine Gael Member of the House contributed to this debate. The Minister's response this evening essentially maintains the status quo. What Fine Gael and this Government want is for a garda to get up on his or her motorcycle or to get into a 4 X 4 or squad car and, as a previous Deputy noted, to pursue for hours people on scrambler bikes around neighbourhoods and residential areas until he or she catches them - putting a significant number of people at risk. That is essentially the response of the Minister. He has not put forward any suggestion as to how the Government intends to deal with it. He talked about proportionality and how our Bill is disproportionate and does not represent a proportionate response to what is happening out there. He should come out to Kilnamanagh, Killinarden, Fettercairn, Kiltipper or the Dodder Valley and tell me what is more or less proportionate - scramblers riding roughshod over open spaces and the rights of citizens and residents or giving An Garda Síochána the power to confiscate and destroy the bikes and quad bikes that these youths use.
In his response, the Minister said that:
Over the last 12 months, the Minister for Justice and Equality has consulted with a number of stakeholders on this issue. Legal advice, received from the Office of the Attorney General last year, noted that, in principle, there would appear to be no difficulty in prosecuting a person who commits a public order offence with these vehicles under the current public order legislation.
However, he misses the point, which is that gardaí have to catch them and to catch them, gardaí have to chase them and gardaí do not want to chase them because it puts the public at risk. The Minister concluded by stating that he would like to commend Deputy Curran and I on our concern about the public welfare on this issue and the work we have put into this Bill but that he would also like us to consider what he said and to withdraw this Bill.
The Minister of State has probably watched "The Shawshank Redemption". There is a great line in it when Andy Dufresne says to the warden, "How can you be so obtuse?". The Minister's reply reflects that sentiment.
We have made the point that the gardaí cannot enforce the law because it puts the public at risk. The Minister is asking us to withdraw the Bill, leave it at that and just let it sit. For the past 12 to 18 months, there has been an interdepartmental committee - a task force made up of various stakeholders - but nothing has emerged from it. They are all saying that this is a really difficult and serious issue.
This is what we are asking the Minister of State, who is an Independent. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, is an Independent Minister. She represents the same constituency as I do. She knows or ought to know all about scramblers and the havoc and chaos they are causing in the constituency of Dublin South-West and how it is spreading. If she is canvassing on doors in this local election cycle she will be well aware that, after housing and health, the issue of scramblers in Tallaght south and Tallaght central is one of the biggest issues being raised on the doors.
It is disingenuous of the Minister of State to bring in the farming community because this has absolutely no implications or consequences for law-abiding citizens or for people who use scramblers in a responsible manner. The Minister of State keeps talking about the gardaí having the powers to detain. Why then at joint policing committees throughout the county and the policing metropolitan area of Dublin are gardaí saying they need additional powers? Why are they advising rank-and-file gardaí not to pursue, chase or intercept because it puts the public at risk? Only in occasional circumstances will the Garda mount special operations. I understand the Garda did so at Christmas in Cabra. Deputy Ellis might know about it. It was a special operation involving multiple Garda vehicles and a vast amount of human resources from the Garda point of view. The result was that they confiscated ten or 12 scramblers. Then, some days later those involved went to the Garda station and got them back.
We welcome the support of several of the Independents and our colleagues in Sinn Féin and the Labour Party. This should go to Committee Stage. We should take this issue out of these interdepartmental cross-departmental multifactorial quasi-functional committees and start talking turkey about it. Open spaces are being ripped up, football pitches are being interrupted and young people's lives are being affected. Residents are afraid to use their open spaces because of the absolute chaos and havoc being caused by scramblers. I hope that when it comes to the vote the Dáil will vote in favour of moving this to Committee Stage or even approve it tonight.