Thursday, 12 November 2020
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
10. To ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the steps he will take to ensure that all driving instructors will be given access to shelter and handwashing and toilet facilities at RSA driving test centres in the course of the Covid-19 pandemic; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35520/20]
This question is to ask the Minister the steps that will be taken to ensure that all driving instructors will be given access to shelter and handwashing and toilet facilities at RSA driving test centres during the Covid-19 pandemic
My Department and the RSA are aware that some driving instructors disagree with the decision by the RSA to close washing facilities and waiting rooms at driver test centres, to ensure compliance with public and occupational health requirements during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. I understand from the RSA that prior to the current pandemic some test centres across the country offered toilet facilities, and in some cases indoor waiting rooms, where instructors could choose to wait while their students were out undergoing their test. To be clear, some test centres around the country are very small and do not have, and have never had, large waiting rooms or toilet facilities available for instructors.
As the Deputy will be aware, driver testing is continuing under level 5 restrictions, but only for candidates involved in the provision of essential services or essential retail outlets. The RSA has thus been presented with the challenge of facilitating these essential tests while at the same time safeguarding the safety of its staff and the public by minimising the risk of spreading the virus.
I understand that, at present, toilet facilities at test centres are only available to the learner driver who is undertaking his or her driving test. There are no waiting area facilities available in any of the centres for either the learner or the instructor. The learner is contacted by phone while he or she is outside the centre and is then invited inside by the driver tester. The decision to temporarily close public toilet and waiting facilities has been taken by the Road Safety Authority in the interests of public safety and as part of its overall Covid-19 resumption of services protocol in line with health and safety risk assessment procedures, which had to be adopted as part of the RSA's resumption plans. I assure the Deputy that this is not a decision that has been taken lightly. I am sure he will agree that the health and safety of the workers and those in driving test centres need to be our priority.
To be clear, the Minister of State indicated that some driving instructors are opposed to this. There are 2,000 driving instructors in the State. I am not in a position to say that every single one of them is opposed to this, but I am aware that the broad mass of those 2,000 driving instructors oppose what is going on here. It is not just some driving instructors - the Minister of State gives the impression that it might be three or four - but the broad mass of the 2,000 driving instructors. Many of them were forced to stand in lashing rain yesterday sheltering under umbrellas while waiting for the test drivers to come back to the centre. I challenge the idea that health and safety is being protected here. Health and safety is being endangered. The broad mass of the 2,000 driving instructors cannot access the centres to use toilet facilities or wash their hands. If the concern is with Covid safety, why are instructors still having to pass log books back and forth with test drivers, instead of doing it online? Let us put health and safety first but that means letting instructors into the centres and ending the lockout.
I thank the Deputy and I hear his concerns on this. As I said, this is an operational matter for the RSA. The learner driver who is doing the test can go into the driver test centre to use the facilities. The reason behind the measure is to try to minimise the through traffic inside test centres to protect public health. I hear the Deputy's concerns. It is not only about the driving instructors but also about those who bring the learner driver to the test centre, be it a parent or other accompanying driver. In normal times, such persons would have been facilitated in the test centres but we are not in normal times. I will re-engage with the RSA to see if something can be done for drivers accompanying those who are doing their test. I emphasise that all of these measures were put in place to minimise risk and safeguard the health and safety of the learner drivers taking the test and the staff of the RSA driving test centres.
We are not asking that parents be allowed in to test centres to use the facilities. We are asking that instructors be allowed in. That is the issue here. The Minister of State indicated this is an operational matter for the RSA. The drivers have chosen to join a union. Whatever about wanting to talk to the RSA, the union wants to talk to the Minister of State. It has written to her on more than one occasion and has not received anything back. The Minister of State said that she wants to hear my concerns. She should cut out the middleman and listens to the instructors' concerns directly. She should write back to them and do the decent thing by arranging to have a discussion with the instructors and the union of their choice. Why will she not agree to do that? The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is not replying in this debate but does the Green Party support this position of locking out a union and refusing to even talk to it? How can the Minister stand over that position?
These protocols were put in place to minimise the likelihood of the transmission of Covid-19 within the centres and to minimise the throughput of people in them. People doing the driving test must be brought to the centres by an accompanying driver because they are learners who have not yet passed the test. Those accompanying drivers may be parents. I am not detracting from what Deputy Barry said but the context in which these protocols were put in place was to try to keep everybody safe. I hear the Deputy's concerns. This is an operational matter for the RSA, which has sought the best medical advice for putting in place these protocols. I will engage with it to see if anything else can be done to keep everybody safe and ensure we suppress this virus. That is the reasoning behind all of these protocols. It is not a perfect situation. We are in an unprecedented global pandemic and we are all trying to grapple with it to keep everyone as safe as possible, while working with everyone.