Thursday, 23 September 2021
Criminal Justice (Public Order) (Quadbikes and Scramblers) (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
I will be sharing my time with Deputy Seán Crowe. I acknowledge that the Government is not opposing this Bill and I hope that not all of the elements of it will be in the Government's long-awaited legislation dealing with illegal and dangerous scramblers and quads that are being ridden in our parks and open spaces. I say "long-awaited" because the Tánaiste stated in February 2020, when Deputy Ellis brought this Bill forward, that the Government would have legislation ready to go for autumn 2020. It is now autumn 2021 and we have yet to see that legislation but I hope that we see it fairly soon.
The purpose of this Bill is to extend the powers to gardaí to seize and detain quad bikes and scramblers used unlawfully in a public place, including in public parks and green spaces. It will give power to An Garda Síochána to detain and seize scramblers and quad bikes used unlawfully in a public place, it establishes an offence of driving a quad bike or scrambler in a public place and provides for penalties and fines and-or seizure or a term of imprisonment not exceeding six months.
It is important to say that this is not all we need to do. Legislation on its own is useless. This will just be words on a document if we do not action those words. We must ensure that An Garda Síochána has the resources, the training and the equipment to tackle the problems in our communities. We also need to ensure that we provide education, training and other resources for youth services in order to deal with this in a kind of holistic way.
I brought this Bill forward and I persisted with it for many years. I was talking to a councillor in my own area today who said that I was promoting my Bill today and have been batting away on this for a good number of years, and I have. This has been for a very real reason and I know Deputy McAuliffe also has experience of this, as do nearly all of the Deputies who live in urban areas in how it affects them.
My experience is that I have a green space beside my road where our kids and our neighbours’ kids play. Unfortunately, I have had to stand in the middle of that green time after time to appeal to the young people that are going up and down it on the quads. Not only is it dangerous for them but it is also dangerous for everyone else in our community. I have had to repeatedly call the gardaí and I am on speed dial with them at this stage. When I ring both 999 and the community gardaí, I receive the same answer where they say they will send a car up to try to get them to move off but there is not a great deal that we can do. In this day and age, considering how dangerous this is, this is not an acceptable way forward in our society.
Unfortunately, I have also spoken to parents of children who have these quads and scramblers. I have asked them not to allow their children to go out on them. If they need to go somewhere, there is a track in Mulhuddart and they should be encouraged to go there, to join up and do it properly. We see all too often, particularly around Christmas time, so many young people being hurt and some have even been killed. One such person was killed on Christmas Day not too long ago because of the actions of parents who buy these machines. I appeal to any parents listening today who are thinking for even one second of getting a quad or scrambler for their child, please, do not do so. Please do not put such a dangerous machine in very young children’s hands. If you see a scrambler out in your community and your young child is on it, go out and challenge them. Even if it is not their bike challenge them and take your child off it and deal with it in that way because it is so dangerous.
The other day I put up a request on social media to find out what people’s experiences were of scramblers and quads and I would like to read out just a couple of them. One of the neighbours in a neighbouring estate said that: "They’re forever on the green across from millennium park and have nearly knocked down kids on the footpath I have reported this a number of times via messenger I’m sure you can you hear them from your house." We hear them pretty much every week. Jacqui said:
Drives you mad ... damaging the fields doing donuts. Makes them look like a dirt track.
Bernard said: "People can not listen 2 de television because of the [noise of the] bikes". Imagine sitting in one’s sitting room where this is going on hour after hour and one cannot even listen to one’s own television.
Paul in Mulhuddart told me about when he was collecting his child from school. He said:
I was recently outside the school, an adult was flying down the fenced off walkway between the field and the main road and almost knocked out on the lollipop lady, he was [very] aggressive and came up [so] close to her [in such] an intimidating way. It’s quite a regular occurrence at this school. Every day we have them out and one of these days they're going to kill some child. These scrambler bikes and quads that we have to endure day in day out [really disturb people]. Sometimes it can be from early morning to late afternoon. The majority of the people here ... [are] elderly people.
They cannot bear the noise outside their homes all day.
I found the following comment particularly upsetting: "[W]e have a local girl who's in a wheelchair who was traumatized by two guys on the motorbike racing towards to get out of the estate and their child was roaring crying screaming because they fear that they given to a local 3 year old and a wheelchair is our way to live.
Another girl from Dundalk contacted me. She is in a place called Castletown, which I do not know, and she has been persecuted by them all day but it is a similar story. We hear story after story of what people have to endure every single day. I thank all those people who contacted me and shared their stories.
It is through those stories we can change people's minds and attitudes and give people who may not have experienced it an idea of what it is like. I am sure others will outline their experiences as well.
I know some of the children and young people who drive these bikes. They deserve our care. As adults, as people who are in a position of responsibility and as legislators, we have a duty to ensure we look after their care. If they are not mature enough or old enough to understand how dangerous their behaviour is, we have to step in. As a parent, I step in, and I am sure other Deputies who are parents do the same from time to time with their children and tell them if their behaviour is not appropriate. That is what we need to do now. We need to ensure we do our best to keep those children, the ones who engage in this behaviour, safe. We are not being killjoys; we are doing this for their own health, welfare and safety.
I look forward to the next Stage. This campaign was initiated in 2017 by Deputies Ellis and Munster, and I hope much of what their Bill sought to achieve will be included in the road traffic (miscellaneous provisions) Bill. I hope there will be action. As I said, this is just one part of a process and that process should be holistic, including us as the legislators, the Garda in implementing the legislation, the youth services in how they deal with young people at risk, and local authorities in how they provide facilities and services for young people. That is critical, particularly in growing areas. As people in our communities, we need to stand up, speak out and ensure this will be dealt with once and for all in a much more comprehensive way.
I come to this debate very frustrated but hopeful the issue can be progressed. I look forward to the rest of the debate, and no doubt I will hear stories from various Deputies. The misuse of quads and scrambler bikes in our public spaces is a problem stretching back years, as we heard from the previous speaker. From the dangers posed to both untrained users and pedestrians to the scars left on our parks and playing pitches, the difficulties presented by these noisy death traps are immense.
Over the years, I, like others, have been contacted by local elderly residents and young families who are almost afraid to step foot outside their door in case they are knocked down by scramblers tearing by their front gate. Without helmets, safety gear or training, the riders of these machines are a menace and a threat. I have lost track of the number of times I have seen a previously perfect playing pitch or a patch of grassland in a park torn up and left looking as though it has been ploughed up, due to the wanton vandalism of these scramblers and bikes. Our parks and green areas should be inclusive spaces, but in many cases they are not.
There is also clear evidence these bikes are being used by some to transport drugs within our communities. I would like the Garda to be empowered to be more proactive in tackling that through seizures, but that is part of the difficulty we have faced in the past. I recall raising the issue years ago with the local superintendent, who talked about gardaí being trained and upskilled and so on. There was a different approach in one part of Dublin city, where there was a representative from that area, but in our area we did not take a proactive approach, although action was taken by the Garda. Children are being drafted as drug couriers because while the Garda can stop a car, the law is much murkier in regard to stopping a scrambler, and that is just the type of problem we need to fix.
As I was preparing for the debate, I came across a contribution of mine to the Misuse of Motor Vehicles (Public Spaces) Bill, which my colleague Deputy Ellis had introduced. I spoke in this Chamber on that Bill in March 2014. That is how long Sinn Féin has been trying to get this matter sorted. We have for seven years been trying to get the Government of the day to take this seriously. Part of the problem related to the fact the Ministers of the day did not have the necessary experience or did not realise it was a problem. I think there is a difference between rural and urban areas in respect of this matter but it is not just a Dublin, Limerick or Cork problem. It is a problem growing throughout the State.
Three years ago, when I spoke to Deputy Ellis's Road Traffic (Quads and Scramblers) (Amendment) Bill, I was told by the then Minister of State with responsibility for the matter, Jim Daly, that a multi-agency task force was devoted to tackling the misuse of scramblers and quad bikes by a number of means, including enhanced enforcement measures, education and awareness-raising measures, and relevant legislation. Nevertheless, scramblers still tear past people's houses, probably even at this hour of the day, as we speak. Two years ago, I asked the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, what his plans were. I was again told about a multi-Department committee, but scramblers still rip up our parks. It baffles me that something as simple as banning the use of quads and scramblers from public spaces has become a seven-year saga that has suffered from a lack of support or interest from whichever government was in power.
I commend my colleague Deputy Ellis, and others such as Deputy Paul Donnelly, who spoke earlier, on not letting the matter drop and on continuing to push to make our streets, parks and other public spaces safer. I regret the response from the Government has always been about what cannot be done and not what can. The key issue we want to hear from the Minister of State during this debate relates to what can be done. I want an end to these vehicles being driven on our roads, in our parks and in a way that destroys pitches and green spaces. What is more, their use destroys residents' quality of life. Parks should be inclusive spaces but they are not, with people excluded because of the reckless activities of others. It is wrong that people are afraid to enter their local park, as was especially evident during the lockdowns, when people would have loved to use their local park but in many cases were too frightened to do so.
The Road Safety Authority, RSA, has stated that half of all accidents related to quads or scramblers involve riders under the age of 18. I appeal to parents to recognise the danger they are putting their children in by buying these vehicles. Christmas is coming in three months' time. It is still far away but many people will be already thinking about it. If their children have nowhere to ride a scrambler or quad except for the local park, down the street, on the footpath or just outside the house, I ask parents, please, not to buy one for them. That is one message we can all agree on.
This is a story of two Irelands. The issue does not affect every area. I recall some rural Deputies stating previously in the House that a ban would impact on farmers being able to travel from one field to another. It is not about that. It is about what is happening on our streets. We need to hear what action is happening. The use of these vehicles dominates many people's environment. A woman rings me at least once a week to tell me what is going on. She cannot participate in Zoom meetings because people will ask whether her washing machine is turned on or somebody is using the vacuum cleaner and so on. This is happening day and night in that woman's area. I could take the Minister of State, if he is interested, to a number of areas in my constituency where this happens daily. I guarantee the House it is happening now and there will be no Garda response. In many cases, because of the current law, the Garda does not want to get involved. There is too much danger involved in it, including for the people using these bikes, but we need to do something for our constituents and respond to their needs.
I am sharing my time.
I thank the joint sponsors of the Bill, Deputies Paul Donnelly, Ellis, Seán Crowe, Mitchell, Ó Snodaigh, O'Rourke, Ó Murchú, Ward and Quinlivan, for raising what we all know is a very real problem, namely, the dangerous misuse of scrambler bikes and other vehicles. Deputies Donnelly and Crowe spoke from the heart. When Deputy Donnelly stated that urban Deputies would be more familiar with this problem, that is certainly true in my case. I thank Deputy Crowe for his invitation to visit his constituency. While I am willing to visit any constituency, I am aware of the issue. I was a councillor until last year and I was, and still am, directly in contact with people who have this problem. I imagine it is a problem in urban areas throughout the State.
I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleagues, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Ryan, and the Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Deputy Naughton, who are attending a Council of Europe meeting of energy and transport ministers in Slovenia.
We are not opposed to any measures which will successfully deal with the illegal use of such vehicles but officials in the Department of Transport, following consultation with the Department of Justice, An Garda Síochána and the Office of the Attorney General, are now finalising legislation which will comprehensively deal with the illegal use of quads and scramblers as part of the forthcoming Road Traffic and Roads Bill 2021. This legislation will ensure that scrambler and quad riders and owners can be prosecuted, and their vehicles detained, when they are being illegally used.
A great deal of work has been done on addressing this issue, and the Department of Justice, in particular, will be familiar with this problem. That Department convened a group of stakeholders a number of years ago, including officials of the Department of Transport, An Garda Síochána, the Local Government Management Agency, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and others directly affected by the misuse of quads and scramblers on land within their jurisdiction, and it has examined the issue from a variety of angles. Arising from these discussions, and on foot of comprehensive advice from the Attorney General, we are satisfied that the provisions to be introduced in the Road Traffic and Roads Bill 2021 will ensure that the misuse of quad bikes and scramblers can be dealt with effectively when enacted. We do not disagree on the fact that a problem exists, or on the need for legislation.
While not opposing the Private Members' Bill in principle, there are a number of provisions which cause concern and it is for this reason that the Minister for Transport would prefer to wait to introduce legislation which has been drafted by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel and approved by the Attorney General, to ensure its robustness. The definition of "all-terrain vehicle", while intending to deal primarily with quads and scrambler bikes, would need to be carefully examined to ensure that it does not inadvertently include agricultural vehicles, Army vehicles, mining vehicles and other industrial vehicles which are also primarily intended to be used off-road. The introduction to the Bill states that its purpose is "to amend and extend the Road Traffic Acts 1961 to 2020 to give gardaí the power to seize and detain quad bikes and scrambler motorcycles when being used unlawfully including in public parks and green spaces and to provide for related matters". Section 41 of the Road Traffic Act 1994, as amended, sets out the circumstances in which a garda may detain a vehicle in a public place. However, section 2 of this Bill provides that such vehicles be detained under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997, and this could potentially lead to legal confusion. The Bill, in spite of the opening declaration, does not propose any amendments to the Road Traffic Acts.
There is also a serious difficulty with the key definition of "all-terrain vehicle". This defines "all-terrain vehicle" as including vehicles of certain types, listed in the definition, "which are primarily used off road". A more normal definition might refer to vehicles being designed for off-road use. Due to the way it is phrased, the proposed definition could mean that action contrary to the new offence to be defined in the Bill would not be an offence, provided that the particular vehicle in question was not used primarily off-road. Similarly, section 3 of this Bill also describes an offence of driving such a vehicle dangerously, this time under the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994, which will lead to similar legal difficulties as outlined earlier. The Bill also seeks to redefine "public place" as described in the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994. However, the definition of "public place" is very different from that of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 and, indeed, from that in the Road Traffic Act 1961. We are unclear how amending the definition of "public place" in one legislative measure might assist in the detention of vehicles under another, and why both of them might ignore the definition in the legislation which is currently being used successfully to detain vehicles in road traffic legislation.
When legislation was being developed to deal with the misuse of quad bikes and scramblers, consideration was given to the relationship between the anti-social use of these vehicles and road traffic law. Scramblers and quads are mechanically propelled vehicles. As such, they should be taxed and insured, and the user should have an appropriate class of driving licence when they are used in a public place, as defined in the Road Traffic Acts. Gardaí have powers to stop vehicles and to detain them when used without tax or insurance, or where the gardaí have reason to believe that the driver or rider is too young to be licensed to drive or ride the vehicle. The difficulties arising, however, are with the use of scramblers and quads in places which are not public places in road traffic law. Consideration was given to whether the definition of a public place could simply be expanded to include parks and other areas, but this was rejected because it could have had wide-ranging unintended consequences which could have created a great deal of legislative disruption by importing into parks and other areas a large body of law not intended or designed for those areas. The definition of "public place" is one of the cornerstones of road traffic legislation, and it is referred to more than 50 times in the Road Traffic Acts 1961 to 2020. This entire body of legislation could be undermined by the changing of a fundamental definition.
Section 3 of the Bill adds to the unintended confusion. It would create a new offence of using an all-terrain vehicle "or a scrambler motor-cycle" in a dangerous way. However, a scrambler is also part of the definition of an all-terrain vehicle, so what is meant in section 3 when it distinguishes between an all-terrain vehicle on the one hand and a scrambler motor-cycle on the other? If a scrambler is an all-terrain vehicle and a scrambler motor-cycle is something else, we are into very muddled territory which will leave plenty of opportunity for people to challenge the law.
The Bill empowers the Minister to make regulations as may be necessary to enforce this legislation and for anything described as prescribed in the Bill. However, the Bill does not describe anything as prescribed, and it is not clear what regulations would be required. In summary, the Bill is an attempt to address a real problem, but is misguided. It is mostly aimed at providing powers which already exist under separate legislation and would, at best, create confusion around the current legislation relating to Garda powers. The legislation the Government will shortly introduce will tackle the issue of the illegal use of quads and scramblers comprehensively and effectively by creating an appropriate offence, and further empowering An Garda Síochána's powers of enforcement in this area. In this context, the Department of Transport, the Department of Justice and An Garda Síochána are satisfied that it will achieve this.
The proposed new legislation is part of a wider consideration of possible measures to assist in dealing with the scrambler problem, including a community outreach programme which An Garda Síochána participates in, and the sub-group of the forum on anti-social behaviour, under the remit of the Department of Justice, which considers community-based approaches to address the misuse of scramblers and quad bikes as part of the overall package of Government measures to tackle the issue. This includes visiting schools and youth centres, and speaking to young people about the dangers of riding quad bikes and scramblers, both to themselves and to anyone they might encounter. There have also been suggestions that young people who are interested in biking in general could be offered training courses in engine mechanics. In particular, it is the intention of An Garda Síochána to make it more widely known that it is already an offence to supply a mechanically propelled vehicle to a minor. Supply includes selling, renting, lending or gifting. Quad bikes and scramblers all fall within this definition. The penalty for this offence is a fine of up to €5,000 and-or up to six months in prison for an individual who supplies such a vehicle, while the minors also face prosecution. The Garda has indicated that it will emphasise the existence of this offence in future community engagement. These measures by An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice will help to educate young people and their parents away from considering scramblers and quads to be harmless toys, and make them aware of the serious legal and safety consequences of allowing their children to use such vehicles.
I will do a summary in my wrap-up speech later in the debate.
I welcome the Deputies bringing this Bill forward. We were fortuitous in it being drawn from the lottery. We have been talking about this issue for some time. There is a broad understanding of this in the House, both from the Deputies who have spoken but also on the part of Deputy Lahart, who brought forward an earlier Bill which has now gone to the next Stage, and Deputies Chambers and Haughey. What we want now is action. I welcome what the Minister of State said, because it outlines the action the Government is going to take on this matter. It is interesting to compare the debate we had when I introduced my Bill in November last year with the debate now. There has been a change in the Government's policy. The Deputies are correct that Deputy Ellis and I have been talking about this for some time in our constituency, but the difference between Deputy Ellis and me was the decision last year to enter government. It is from within the Government that we can change policy, and there has been a significant policy.
When the Government gets things wrong, the Opposition correctly points that out. However, it is important to note that when something has been done right, credit should be given to the new Government for reshaping new policy. What is that new policy? It did not happen by accident. It happened because the Taoiseach took a very serious interest in this issue. He convened a cross-departmental meeting last November in his office. After one meeting it was very clear what the solution was and after some persuasion with the Attorney General and officials, the solutions were brought forward. They are very clear. We have brought forward a new class of vehicle and of location which outlines clearly the offence and violation specific to scramblers. That resolves some of the issues we had with vehicles outside of anti-social behaviour use.
It also empowers gardaí to impound the vehicles on the spot, which avoids us having to redefine the public place and the common law implications. Importantly, it gives gardaí the powers to seize a vehicle on foot of a warrant if the person involved is suspected of having committed the first offence I outlined. That is the significant and important difference between the two Bills. The fourth difference relates to the offence of dangerous driving being applied to other locations, which is also significant.
Major progress has been made, and the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications has already been briefed on it. I look forward to the amendments being introduced. We have not waited for that either. The Minister of State, Deputy Browne, has done significant work. Community groups in my area and in other areas have already received invitations to apply for more than €200,000 of funding for diversionary tactics, and they have applied. Much work has been done and there should be credit when it comes through. Like other Deputies, I look forward to seeing the final items of legislation. They will make a real difference for people in my community.
The use of scramblers, antisocial behaviour and organised crime present a real threat to law and order in urban communities. The revs and the roars of scramblers translate into anxiety, intimidation and fear in communities, which is simply unacceptable. I am really pleased, therefore, that the Government has already drafted legislation in respect of this matter which will allow for the seizure of these vehicles when they are used in public places.
Clondalkin councillor Kenneth Egan and my Government colleague, Deputy McAuliffe, have done considerable work in shaping this Government legislation. In my area of Clondalkin, Councillor Egan has been a voice for people who were too scared to speak up. These people just do not want to live in places that are unsafe. They want safe communities, safe parks and safe streets. I welcome the Government's legislation, which will give extra powers to gardaí so they can tackle this where it counts, namely, on our streets, in our parks and on our footpaths.
Communities are simply fed up listening to the revs and roars. They are fed up of the intimidation and the antisocial behaviour. The legislation that the Government is finalising will change that. It will make a real difference to our communities across Dublin and in urban areas throughout the country. I welcome the Government's initiative on this.
I was really happy to be able to co-sign this Bill. I thank Deputies Paul Donnelly, Ellis and Munster for bringing it forward originally. Looking around the Chamber, one can see the issue of scramblers in public spaces is a big issue in my area in Dublin Mid-West, particularly in Clondalkin and Lucan, because three Members from different parties who represent that area are here this evening to talk about it.
I took a walk along the canal that runs between Clondalkin and Lucan earlier today. It is an amenity I often use as a cyclist. I am not a very good cyclist, rather I am a novice. Mostly it is great, nice and peaceful, but all of a sudden a scrambler can come out of nowhere, which is frightening. Residents walking their dogs along the canal sometimes feel they need to jump in the water to get out the way of these scramblers, which is not good enough especially with amount of infrastructure South Dublin County Council, other organisations and Departments have put into that canal to make an amenity for all. We should be able to enjoy it.
I am also a keen footballer and I am involved with the local clubs in the area. We have had matches called off during the bad weather when the pitches are damper than usual. It just takes a scrambler two seconds to go across a pitch and the pitch is then ruined and cannot be used. This is something that good community organisations are facing on a daily basis.
I give great praise to South Dublin County Council. Three Members present were previously on that local authority. It has had many good initiatives recently, with new playgrounds being put in place and parks being improved. Our children and young people are now able to enjoy them. It is very difficult to enjoy a playground when a scrambler comes in when the children are playing. It is really dangerous and it is a weapon in the hands of the rider.
Deputy McAuliffe mentioned speaking to gardaí. I have spoken to gardaí in my area and they welcome this legislation. They welcome any legislation that strengthens their hand in dealing with this problem. Gardaí are inundated with people contacting them in respect of this issue. The Garda needs to be resourced in order to tackle it. While we can give the Garda legislation, we also need to resource it to make sure that gardaí can go out and take these scramblers of the streets. We just need to stop this scourge.
There seems to be all-party support across the House for most of what is in this Bill, and the Government is not opposing it. We just need to progress it through the Dáil.
Deputies Seán Crowe and Paul Donnelly mentioned personal responsibility on parents who purchase these scramblers for their children at Christmas or at any other time. It is just not good enough. They are putting a dangerous weapon in the hands of somebody who is not capable of using it. Their child could be hurt or could hurt somebody else. If they do not hurt somebody else, they are impacting on the quality of life of neighbours, friends and people in the community. Parents need to take that into consideration before they purchase these bikes for their children.
At one point along the canal - in fairness, the Garda carried out a big operation there - these scramblers were used quite openly to assist drug dealing. It was very clever with one lad going up with drugs in his hand and another lad coming back collecting the money. This meant that they never had the drugs and the and the money in the same place. If these lads put their brains to something else, they would do well in life. Unfortunately, they do not. Scramblers are being used as a way of getting away from the Garda or as a way of conducting business very quickly and using other areas of our communities that are inaccessible to cars.
There is also a group of people in my area who use scramblers correctly. They are involved in motocross clubs. They have to go outside our area unfortunately because there is nothing there. They enjoy themselves and use the bikes in the safe regulated manner. There is a nice community of people involved in this. I would fully support any infrastructure that would allow people who wanted to use scramblers and quads in a safe way.
When I was mayor of South Dublin County Council, I took part in an initiative across the four Dublin local authorities, South Dublin County Council, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, which is in the Minister of State's area, Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council. It was a harm-reduction measure relating to scramblers. It focused on teaching young people of the dangers of using scramblers and their effect on their community. That was a good initiative which may be repeated.
The Government has a tactic of not opposing Private Members' Bills, which is different from supporting them through the Oireachtas process. The Government is not opposing some of our very good housing Bills. It is letting them go through, but they are not getting any further. I introduced a Criminal Assets Bureau Bill to put money seized by bureau back into disadvantaged communities. It has passed Second Stage. The Government claims it will introduce legislation better than my legislation. I do not really care once it goes through and once it is done properly. We need to get away from what is happening. This is really good, tangible legislation that the Opposition has introduced. I said from my first day here that while I am in opposition, I am working on bringing solutions. This is one of the ways we are trying to bring solutions. Deputy McAuliffe had a previous Bill, which I would fully support if it is a way to move this forward because we need to work together on issues like this.
We need to stop getting into the argument that the Government legislation is better than ours. While I know this is what politics is all about, we need to work together. Deputy McAuliffe is in a party in government. He can dress it up however he wants, but his party refused to talk to my party when the government negotiations took place. He cannot throw it out that we did not try to go into government-----
-----when we did everything possible to go into government and Deputy McAuliffe's party decided not to have a conversation. Fianna Fáil is a party of exclusion. It excluded more than 500,000 people in the State from that conversation. He can dress it up any way he wants.
This is what we are doing in opposition. We said we would be the most effective opposition in the history of the State, and that is what we are doing. We are offering solutions in respect of real problems that people are experiencing. We are putting things in place that will improve people's quality of life.
I urge those on the other side of the House to allow this legislation to go through.
The Minister of State, in his feedback, engaged in pre-legislative scrutiny. If there are problems with the Bill, that is what pre-legislative scrutiny is for. The Government should allow it to go into pre-legislative scrutiny and we will have the debate at that stage. It should not stop the legislation at this stage for the sake of it.
We have debated this issue numerous times. I come from the point of view that there is irresponsible and responsible use of scramblers and quad bikes. We have spoken about this matter numerous times and legislation on it has had many manifestations but the central argument is that the irresponsible use of these vehicles in public spaces is not only a danger to the user but also to pedestrians and road users. We all agree on that. Whether it is a Sinn Féin Bill or whether the Government implements a Bill and changes the law is academic. That is the main point.
In the area I am from this is an issue because vehicles are being used irresponsibly. There is no doubt about that but we cannot police our way out of the problem. If we think we can police our way out of it, we will lose. I will start from the responsible side of things. I welcome the initiative of the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Deputy James Browne, to provide a community-based response to the misuse of scramblers. That is a very good and holistic approach that engages young people.
I hate the phrase "anti-social". I try not to use it and instead to speak of a pro-social approach because if using the term "anti-social" all of the time puts a label on people. Young people in particular get labelled as being anti-social. Wealthy people engage in a lot of stuff in society that is anti-social but that term is never used to describe it. It is always used for young people, in particular, working class people.
This community approach provides better outcomes for communities, which is the most important issue, as well as for the Garda and young people. There are some great projects around the country for scramblers and quad bikes. When young people are engaged in these projects they learn about the mechanics and how to be responsible for these vehicles. They could even get a job from that. These are all positive things and I welcome the initiative of the Minister of State in that area.
When scramblers and quad bikes are used irresponsibly, as they are, particularly in parks and on roads, it is inevitable that there will be a serious accident. There have been some very bad accidents with these vehicles. If we change the law tomorrow, will the irresponsible use of these vehicles stop? It probably will not stop because, as Deputy Ward said, these vehicles are used for other purpose, including drug-dealing. They are not being used for sport but for carrying drugs from A to B and it is done in a clever way that makes it difficult for the Garda to apprehend people. We can change the law but we must also have a different approach, namely, a community-based approach that treats scramblers and quad bikes in a different way. This is a major sport in this country. The responsible use of these vehicles in a controlled and safe environment is a great hobby. If we provide for that, we will have a better approach to this issue, one that comes through the community, as opposed to a policing approach, which will not ultimately work.
I commend Sinn Féin on introducing this Bill and I wish the Minister of State luck on the community-based approach he is taking to the misuse of scramblers.
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, for sharing his time. I welcome the opportunity to debate this Bill with the Members opposite. It is a good proposal and I know Deputy Ward has been on this issue for some years. It might come as a surprise to him to learn that in our 100 years of democracy, only about seven Private Members' Bills have been passed into law, to the best of my knowledge. The figure may be six or eight but it is very low. That being said, I have personally written several Bills, some of which I have submitted and some I have not. All have influenced the outcome of legislation that followed, however. That is what we are supposed to do with Private Members' Bills and, as such, I commend the Deputy on that.
I welcome the Minister of State's contribution on what the Government is proposing to do. In particular, I echo what the previous speaker said on the work being done by the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Deputy James Browne, on the education side. I have been in politics for 17 years, seven of which were spent on Fingal County Council. Members, particularly Deputy Paul Donnelly, will know of my service as we were in the council chamber together for some years. The most important activity the council members are involved in is the road safety roadshow, which takes place nearly every year in the Helix. I held the positions of mayor and deputy mayor of Fingal on separate occasions, during which times I attended these roadshows, at which harrowing stories are told to children in the presence of An Garda Síochána and educators. If what the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, is proposing is to establish this roadshow as a Garda-backed scheme that will go around the country and be constant in the lives of young people, I will welcome it because this is an effective approach. On one occasion, a scrambler that had been involved in a crash was brought up as an example. A victim of that crash, the pillion passenger who had been left in a wheelchair, told a pretty effective story.
What Sinn Féin is proposing and what the Government is now proposing to implement are two commendable steps. I welcome the opportunity to debate this Bill and the other two Bills when they are introduced. I genuinely thank the Deputies opposite for proposing the Bill, which has been on the cards for some time. A lot of work has been done on this issue over many years. If nothing else, the Bill has served the purpose of informing the Department when it drafts its own Bill. That is most important and it will be for the benefit of Deputy Ward in particular.
I will follow on from what Deputy Ward said. When he was mayor of South Dublin County Council he suggested that scramblers were being used in pairs for drug-dealing. I was not aware of that. He also pointed out that scramblers are also used safely. I presume there are locations in the Dublin mountains where they can be used. Such safe use needs encouragement and support. I am also glad to see that Deputy Ward is back after his illness, which I was sorry to hear about. I am glad he is well again.
Deputy Gino Kenny made the point that we should take a positive approach and even encourage young people who are using scramblers to learn about the mechanics of motorbikes. Successful approaches in this vein were taken by an organisation called City Motor Sports in the past. It worked with children who were stealing cars and I have seen it working in other locations. I would support that approach. It is all part of what the Department of Justice is working on.
While none of us disagrees with the need to deal with the scourge of illegally used quad bikes, scramblers and other vehicles, both on public and private land, we also agree that any legislation we introduce to deal with this issue must be robust and good enough to allow An Garda Síochána to deal safely and effectively with the problem. It also has to withstand any challenges that might arise in the courts. The issue has always been the difficulty with enforcement. When deciding whether to give chase to a scrambler rider in a public park, a Garda member has to be mindful that the rider is more than likely a child. The garda must also be aware of innocent bystanders who could be badly injured or worse in a high-speed chase, which may spill out onto the public road and put vulnerable road users in danger. The Bill does not address this main issue and by seeking to use a number of different criminal justice Acts, all of which define "public place" differently, to prosecute scrambler drivers, it could cause serious legal confusion.
Forthcoming legislation from the Department of Transport will ensure that scrambler and quad riders and owners can be prosecuted and their vehicles detained without the need for high-speed pursuit, which could endanger more people.
The Government and I look forward to working constructively with the Opposition on this legislation because we are all in favour of solving this problem in a way that is effective and works for everybody.
I thank the Minister of State for his contribution. I ask him if he could try to make it a little longer in future, maybe by adding a few paragraphs, so we can go through it in the time we have and really get into the nuts and bolts of the issue. I look forward to the publication of the Government's legislation in the coming weeks. I also thank Deputy Farrell for his contribution because if we can move forward and support the legislation, we will do so, if it helps in our community, the Deputy's community and everybody else with a stake in the issue. The intention is to provide legislation that helps everybody in our community.
I acknowledge it is important we work together in the coming weeks, that we do not put this on the long finger again and it is not delayed. The political point Deputy McAuliffe made in his contribution was fair, but what he failed to mention was that all of the parties have been in power during the 25 years I have been talking about this issue, bar one. There has been ample opportunity over the past 20 to 25 years I, and others, have been talking about this issue to bring in that legislation. I commend Deputies Ellis and Munster on bringing this forward in 2017 because it is part of the process of pushing whatever government is in power at the time to enact this type of legislation. This is part of that process. I like to think if we had not published this, there would be legislation in the coming weeks anyway.
On the issue of a positive approach mentioned by Deputy Gino Kenny earlier, I have been involved in working with young people at risk in the Coolock-Darndale area for the guts of 20 years. Many of those young people were engaged in activities with scramblers, and other activities, that would not be seen as pro-social. I do not want to use the term "antisocial". It is very important when we talk about young people to bear in mind it is a tiny minority of them who are engaged in this activity. It is important on one level to ensure services are in place, whether it is school completion because young people are at risk of early school leaving, or the Garda youth diversion programme, which Deputy McAuliffe and I sat on together in the Kilmore area. Some incredible work was done by youth workers in that area in dealing with, supporting and trying to bring those young people onto a different pathway.
It is critically important legislation is in place to allow the Garda to deal with anything that is criminal and is causing harm to other people and, I would say, also causing harm to the people who are doing it. We also have to have the other elements. I spoke to members of a motocross group in Dublin 15 whose members talked about how they would like to get involved in the project the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, brought forward. They were excited about that piece of work because they have a track. The irony is Mulhuddart is probably the only place within the Dublin area that has a track, as far as I know. It still does not eliminate the problem because not everybody will want to go onto a track and behave in an appropriate way. It is important to recognise there will always be young people engaged in activities who will want to do it correctly, who will want to train and who will want to make a career out of it. Some people in my area have made a career out of it and are experts. To see them go up and down the track is phenomenal. However, as I said, there are others who do not want to do this but want to go up and down our green spaces, parks and roads and will cause, not harm because they are not doing it deliberately, but the consequences of their actions could possibly cause harm.
The one thing that concerns me and, again, I would have liked to have a little more time to go through the Minister of State's contribution, is in the definition of a public space, parks and open spaces. That is the crux of what we are talking about today. I am very concerned because the Garda, and anybody who is engaged in this, is telling us that the law is not in place for them to do anything. Part of the Minister of State's contribution described quads and scramblers as mechanically propelled vehicles that should be taxed and insured. That is not actually correct. If you have a quad on a private farm, private land or wherever it may be, you do not need to have it taxed and insured.
I am a little concerned that elements of the Minister of State's contribution are not technically correct. When we talk about parks and open spaces it is critical that it is clear what they are. The Garda should have clarity on that piece because that is the crux of it. I know, as everybody does, that if I drive a quad, motorbike, car or whatever it may be on a path or road, I have to have tax, insurance and a licence or else I could be arrested, charged, my vehicle seized and so on. That is clear and everybody knows that but it is not as clear when it comes to parks and open spaces. Having read the Minister of State's contribution, I am still a little concerned that it is not clear about this. I hope, when we look at the legislation in the next couple of weeks, it becomes clearer and is absolutely defined for the Garda.
All the Deputies talk to members of the Garda on a regular basis. Many of them will talk to us off the record about how they feel about things. Their number one issue is that they do not have the resources they need. That is clear. They are telling us on a daily basis there are not enough gardaí to deal with what is going on within our communities. That has to be sorted out and solved because it is part of the problem. They are telling us they do not have the laws and legislation in place to deal with this. That is very clear. They have told us that time and again at safety forums and in public. Senior gardaí have said it in public. I am little concerned that in parts of the Minister of State's contribution he said there are laws in place and that we are trying to put in laws where laws already exist. If that was the case, I would not be standing here. I would be going to senior gardaí to ask them to enforce the laws that are already there.
Another part of the Minister of State's contribution, towards the end, concerned the legislation in place in relation to parents and the fact that if a person buys a mechanically propelled vehicle for a minor it is a criminal offence. My next question to senior gardaí is: how many people have ever been charged with that offence? I would be pretty certain that it is nil. Why is that the case? It is not enforced. It goes to the crux of what I said earlier. We can have all the laws we want in place but if we do not enforce them and do not give the Garda the resources, equipment and training they need, the laws are utterly useless.
As I said, I look forward to the legislation, to contributing again on this issue and to inputting in a positive way to get it across the line so we can ensure all our communities are safe in the end.