Dáil debates

Thursday, 11 November 2021

Road Traffic and Roads Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)


Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time".

2:55 pm

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
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Before we get into the substance of the Bill, I have to say that were I to come along and present this legislation,l I would be laughed out of the Bills Office because to be honest, it is very difficult to know what the scope of the Bill is as something like 14 different items are listed. It is not that there is not merit in most of them, it is that most are not connected to one another. It will make our road traffic legislation even more complicated. I know the Minister of State is aware of that particular issue.

Last week this was pulled from the draft schedule. Obviously the Bill had not been completed. It has all of the hallmarks of something that is rushed and yet it contains some important things. I believe a lot of amendments will be brought forward on Committee Stage and I understand the Minister of State herself may well bring forward amendments on some aspects.

Our road traffic legislation was incomprehensible even before this Bill. This Bill makes it worse. How exactly does the Minister of State expect members of the Garda to do their job and enforce road traffic laws when the Department appears to be determined to make them more difficult to understand? We have a responsibility to ensure that the laws that we pass in this House are comprehensible, not just to the Garda Síochána and the Law Library but to every citizen. How many people would go to this Bill to look for some of the things that are in it?

When it comes to road traffic legislation, we have failed in this regard. At the same time, I want to acknowledge the Minister of State's commitment to consolidating the Road Traffic Acts which, I am sure, is a mammoth task. She might address that issue when she sums up. When are we likely to see that? Will be during the lifetime of this Dáil? It is needed. The last thing we want is the law being circumvented by people who can get around things through technicalities in our courts system. We need clear, consolidated legislation.

In the first instance, I want to start almost at the back of the Bill. I want to draw attention to section 45, which, as I understand it, will provide An Bord Pleanála with the power to override local authorities and local development plans. The amendment states:

An Bord Pleanála shall approve a scheme, or a proposed road development, that contravenes materially any development plan or any local area plan (within the meaning of the Act of 2000) only if it considers that one of the following is the case ... the (proposed) development plan or the objectives are not clearly stated, insofar as the scheme or proposed road development (scheme) is concerned ... the scheme or proposed road development should be approved having regard to the transport strategy made under section 12 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008, the regional spatial and economic strategy for the area, guidelines under section 28 of the Act of 2000, policy directives under section 29 of the Act of 2000, the statutory obligations of any local authority in the area, and any relevant policy of the Government, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage or any Minister of the Government ... [T]he scheme or proposed road development should be approved having regard to the pattern of development, and planning permissions granted, in the area since the making of the development plan.

It seems to me that captures, or potentially captures, an awful lot.

I can think of a couple of road proposals that are very controversial and are likely to fall exactly within the terms of this provision. For example, there is a park between Lucan and Leixlip, St. Catherine's Park, that is jointly managed by three local authorities. There is a proposal, and it was even published yesterday as part of the Dublin transport strategy, to put a dual carriageway through the middle of the park. There will be many people lying down in front of bulldozers if that happens. If the local authorities are going to be cut out of the decision-making on this, people would have a right to ask: what is the point of local government? Another proposed road in my constituency has failed twice through the Part 8 process. It is judged to be in the wrong place by the residents in the area. Do they count for anything?

The Minister of State might elaborate on why this provision ended up in this legislation in the first instance. Why is it not in a planning and development legislative measure, where one would expect to see it, rather than in this road traffic legislation, and a very miscellaneous legislative measure at that? If we are to build confidence among the public, people need clarity. A debate in the Seanad has just started on new legislation relating to the replacement of strategic housing developments. I remember when the legislation on strategic housing developments was being debated in this House. I told the House that the legislation would end up in the courts because if one removed the ability to appeal a decision and if one bypassed the local authorities there was only one place the legislation would go. That is exactly what happened. It is very important that we pay attention to the mistakes that have been made. This section should be deleted from the Bill. It is not properly positioned in the legislation and I would like to hear an elaboration on why it was included in the first place or what were the circumstances or perhaps some examples as to why it was included.

There are a number of provisions in the legislation relating to e-scooters. One can either ban them or legislate for them. I believe we should legislate for them, but that does not happen without significant issues. I am quite sure the Minister of State is more than aware of that. E-scooters typically travel at approximately 20 km/h and have a range of between 15 km and 25 km between charges. They do not require the same licensing, insurance and tax considerations as motorbikes. There is no doubt that legalising and regulating the use of e-scooters have been necessary for a long time. E-scooters have been a common feature on the roads in our cities and towns, using the cycle lanes. If one is using one, which I would be terrified to do, it is very difficult to know where is the safest place to do so. They are probably an important component of moving people away from cars and giving them an ability to move around quite quickly, but questions remain about exactly how they will be regulated and who will regulate them.

When this legislation is passed, there are over a dozen firms lined up who are interested in providing e-scooter rentals. These rental companies have caused a great deal of chaos on the streets of other European and American cities due to the rental scooters being just left behind on footpaths and so forth. For people with disabilities, people with visual impairments and people who are not fast on their feet to get out of the way, it is a big issue of concern that e-scooter users would mingle with people on footpaths. How do we plan to regulate, and who will regulate, the industry? We cannot make the same mistakes that have been made elsewhere. E-scooters do not have a licence plate. Who carries the liability? Does the renter carry the liability if somebody gets injured, including the person who is using the e-scooter? How does one identify it and how realistic is for members of the Garda to be able to deal with an incident where they cannot identify the vehicle that has been used? What consideration has been given to the examples from other European cities where there have been problems? While there are fewer accidents with e-scooters because there are not as many of them as there are bicycles, when accidents occur they tend to be more serious. There is quite an amount of information and I have more questions regarding how the regulation will work in practice than I have answers.

The Minister of State said that the Government intends to bring forward amendments on Committee Stage to allow asylum seekers to access driver licences. That is a welcome development. It has been called for over many years by asylum seekers, human rights groups and several Members of the Oireachtas. The delay in affording driver licences to asylum seekers has caused more hardship than has been necessary. It has added to the hardship. Direct provision centres are often in isolated locations and not having the ability to drive has been an impediment to getting work, bringing children to school, socialising and so forth, so it is very important. There was a court case recently and I do not understand why it appears that the State was fighting that court case and objecting against the National Driver Licence Service while at the same time there were plans to deliver this in legislation. I do not understand why that would be the case. In 2018, the then Minister for Transport, Mr. Shane Ross, stated that he had received legal advice that it was possible to issue driver licences to asylum seekers, so why did the State contest that case? It does not make sense that it was not just regularised in legislation rather than fighting it through the courts. That would have been costly and it was going to be remedied in this way anyway.

Deputy Gannon will deal with the issue of scramblers, which is incredibly important for many people. It is welcome that they are being legislated for here. Many issues will be raised with regard to the regulation of those as well.

3:05 pm

Photo of Gary GannonGary Gannon (Dublin Central, Social Democrats)
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This is an incredibly wide-ranging Bill, as my colleague said. One matter that is a huge concern in constituencies such as mine and in those of other Deputies is the issue of scrambler bikes. This has been discussed not only in this House but also in local authorities in search of a resolution. I hope this Bill brings some resolution to this serious issue but there will have to be amendments made on Committee Stage for that to happen. There will have to be broader engagement with the Garda and other sectors on some peculiar aspects of the law, regulation and enforcement with regard to scrambler bikes.

Scrambler and quad bikes have been discussed at length in the political and media arenas, including their association with antisocial behaviour, their use for purposes of intimidation and the risk associated with them. It is hoped this Bill will finally enable us to deal adequately with them when they are used dangerously. I welcome this aspect of the Bill. However, the fear is that no resources are being invested in this area. There is just the risk of the stick without understanding what that will look like. We all have stories from both ourselves and our constituents regarding scrambler and quad bikes. The stories are tragic in many ways. I am reminded of a story from my constituency on Christmas Day in 2014 when a young man lost his life. There are other harrowing stories about scrambler bikes coming over hills and landing on top of people in parks in Santry. There have been other issues in Tolka Park. They are significantly dangerous issues, creating the potential for antisocial behaviour. There is so much fear for people in the parks that we hope we can get to grips with this issue.

No one buys a scrambler bike for a child in the belief that they will get hurt. Some people want to use scrambler bikes safely but we need to create the conditions in which that can happen. I am conscious that 41% of those killed or injured in collisions involving quad bikes or scramblers on a public road between 2014 and 2019 were 18 years or younger.

The measure in the Bill specifying where it is lawful for scramblers and quad bikes to drive will help ensure the safety of the public, as well as users of these vehicles many of whom are not engaged in antisocial behaviour and do not maliciously intend to cause harm. However, we need more procedures and best practice for these vehicles. The Bill mentions strengthening the powers of the Garda, but has the Minister engaged with the Garda to see if the issue is only related to the extent of the power that the Garda Síochána has when it comes to scramblers and quad bikes? I am wondering about the level of engagement with the Department of Justice.

All of us have contacted the Garda about scramblers and quad bikes. Invariably we are told that gardaí cannot chase young people on these bikes for obvious reasons. How in practice will members of An Garda Síochána seize scramblers and quad bikes? That is the biggest factor in scramblers and quad bikes being such a long-standing issue in communities, and it is one the Bill does not yet adequately address. I would appreciate if the Minister of State could provide any practical information on how the stopping and seizing of these vehicles will take place. I am not sure if that is even within the remit of the Bill at this time. It will require best practice and evidence. It will require alternative places for where young people can use these scrambler bikes. Unless we have that I am not hopeful.

As my colleague, Deputy Catherine Murphy said, we also need clarity on the powers of An Bord Pleanála potentially to bypass local or county development plans for roads as a result of this Bill. I sat on Dublin City Council for six years, some of that time alongside the Acting Chairman, Deputy Mitchell. Last night Dublin City Council introduced its city development plan. More than 300 amendments were made to that development plan over the last three days and yet we are told that An Bord Pleanála can simply bypass city or county development plans at the stroke of a pen, which fundamentally undermines the very concept of local government and local democracy.

As we argue the merits and demerits of the Bill, I cannot help thinking how it will further erode local authority structures. What was the point of the level of engagement by counsellors on Dublin City Council in passing that local development plan with its 300 amendments if we are simply going to bypass it? What was the point of giving them authority but then taking it away? That needs to be addressed substantively not only at committee level but potentially through legislation. Those city and county development plans must matter or else the very concept of local government is further eroded, which is a real shame. We should not further compound it through this Bill.

3:15 pm

Photo of Paul McAuliffePaul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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Sometimes in this Chamber we face deep levels of frustration and I wonder whether we are making any progress on the issues before us. Today is not one of those days. While this is a very wide-ranging Bill that in many ways will help us meet some of our key climate action targets, I want to focus on the amendments relating to scrambler bikes. The term Teachta Dála, messenger of the people, is an interesting phrase because who knows what messages were sent here from the people? We meet many people during an election campaign and hear about many issues. All of us know the things we were sent here to try to fix. The issue of scrambler bikes was one that I was sent here to resolve. I am very pleased to see the amendments to the Bill which go a long way to changing national policy on this issue and solving the issue on the ground.

Last year, I was deeply disappointed that despite it being part of the programme for Government, replies that I initially received from the Department appeared to be very similar to replies provided for the best part of a decade, suggesting that there was no obligation to have new laws, that there were issues with the definition of a public place and the belief that the Garda already had sufficient powers.

It is said that success can have many mothers and fathers. It is important to acknowledge the people who helped us to get this across the line. It starts with the Taoiseach, who at an early stage identified this as an issue similar to the issue of joyriding in the 1980s and 1990s in Cork. He realised that it would not be solved by one measure, but by a range of measures. I thank Deputy Lahart for the work he did and for allowing me to co-sign the Bill. After that Bill was introduced, the Taoiseach convened a meeting of a Cabinet subgroup attended by the Ministers of State, Deputies Naughton and James Browne, and the Minister, Deputy McEntee, before she took her short leave, and their officials. It became clear that the support of the Attorney General would be needed in addressing the legal issues. I am grateful for the work of those in the Office of the Attorney General, without which we would not have these amendments. I am also grateful for the willingness of the Department of Transport to grasp this nettle and solve the issue.

What does the Bill do? It introduces fundamental and substantial changes to the law. It grants powers to gardaí on the ground. That sends a message to those in the constituency I represent and many others. For ten years people attending safety forums have been saying they cannot understand why gardaí could not respond to this issue. When a scrambler bike tore up and down the road with innocent families on the road terrified and their children in danger, when communities and sports clubs despaired over delayed matches or when shoppers saw someone doing a wheelie on the main street in Finglas village or elsewhere, they could not understand why nobody was doing anything about this. The belief was that nobody cared. Today we are saying that we very much care and that these laws will resolve the issue.

The Bill introduces a new category of vehicle, a new offence, a new power to seize and dispose and a new obligation to reclaim from the District Court rather than from the Garda station. Other Deputies have rightly identified the issue of interception as being key. That was what put people in danger. It put the gardaí pursuing these vehicles in danger. It put the children who should not be driving these vehicles at their age in danger and it also put innocent people in the vicinity in danger. The decision to give the powers to the Garda to seize a vehicle from the curtilage of the property means that gardaí now only need to follow the vehicle at a safe distance and when the vehicle is on that property, it can be seized. That is fundamental and will prevent people dying in order for us to solve this problem. It will also deal very toughly with those people who purchase and use illegal scrambler bikes thereby endangering their neighbours and friends in their community.

While I was very tough on resolving the scrambler bike issue, the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, was very keen to introduce a measure for young people engaged in this activity. I have been involved in youth work for years - long before I was involved in politics. I was pleased with the Minister of State's commitment because I was very focused on the legal changes, but he introduced a new scheme which I understand many local groups in my area and other areas have applied for. Funding will be put in place to resolve this issue.

As I said, success can have many mothers and fathers. I acknowledge the Deputies in this Chamber, including my constituency colleagues and many other people, who have continued to raise this issue. On this side of the House, we have had the ability and opportunity to make this change because we are in government and we have access to Ministers and their officials. I take nothing from the commitment of other Deputies who have been speaking about this issue for many years. In a short time during the term of this Government, we have managed to resolve this issue. It is now over to the Garda to administer it.

I ask Members to do everything they can to get at least this portion of the Bill across the line because communities out there really need it. They should do everything they can to ensure the Bill is dealt with as quickly as possible and that it gets to the President's desk and is signed so that communities throughout the country know that not just this Government but also this House understand this issue and we are willing to do it. If we send that message, there is an opportunity for the Government to deal with the many other issues in our community, such as open drug dealing, unemployment and dereliction.

There are many challenges outlined in the programme for Government and this is an example of how committed both my party and the other parties in government are to resolving some of these long-standing matters that have been spoken about for too long and on which there has been too little action. Today is a good day to be a Member of Dáil Éireann.

3:25 pm

Photo of Dessie EllisDessie Ellis (Dublin North West, Sinn Fein)
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I introduced legislation similar to this on several occasions over the past five years to tackle the problem of illegal use of quads and scramblers. It was opposed by this and previous Governments supported by Fianna Fáil. On each occasion the Attorney General was indicated to have opposed it so what has happened since? How many deaths and injuries could have been avoided if the legislation had been implemented?

The most consistent area of use of scramblers has been in parks and green spaces, particularly in and around housing estates. We have always argued for and given our support to measures that would strengthen Garda powers to seize scramblers and quad bikes being used illegally. I welcome such additional powers proposed in this legislation. A very successful pilot scheme was run in Finglas that led to the seizure of up to 60 scramblers. The scheme has since been discontinued and gardaí are being instructed not to pursue scramblers. The closing of this pilot scheme should be reconsidered, with proper specialist training provided for gardaí and the use of appropriately powered motorbikes.

There are significant gaps in law with regard to electric scooters. I should point that this is not about punishing electric scooter users but rather the putting in place of proper protection and rules for the safe use of these scooters. Serious consideration must be given to a number of matters when operating such vehicles. For example, there must be a requirement to wear a helmet and high-visibility clothing. There must be proper lights on the vehicle, along with proper insurance and registration of the scooter. An age requirement for the driving of an electric scooter should be imposed and there should be speed limits for the vehicle.

Under existing legislation it is illegal to use an electric scooter. As this legislation progresses, there will be opportunities on Committee Stage to scrutinise their use in more detail and we will look to making such amendments where necessary. It is important that electric scooters should not be used on footpaths as they are a potential danger to those with visual impairment or disability. These scooters are currently classed as mechanically propelled vehicles, which requires them to be insured, taxed and licensed if used in a public place. This means all such vehicles being used now in public places are being used illegally.

In both Germany and Belgium, electric scooters are licensed and insured. We may need another category of licence for these vehicles. These scooters should only be used by one person, even if two people do not exceed the permissible total weight for the scooter. There are proposals in the legislation that they should not be used in pedestrianised areas, national roads or on motorways, and these have merit. However, I question the 30 km/h maximum speed limit for the vehicles. In Germany, for example, the maximum limit is 20 km/h. I also have difficulty with the lack of provisions for compulsory safety equipment such as helmets, contradicting the advice of both the Road Safety Authority and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, which wants such equipment to be mandatory when operating such vehicles. It is the law in other European countries.

Photo of Marc Ó CathasaighMarc Ó Cathasaigh (Waterford, Green Party)
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On the point made by Deputy Ellis about the mandatory wearing of helmets, it has been demonstrated in other jurisdictions - Australia is a case in point - that when we make the wearing of helmets mandatory, particularly with cycling, the participation rate drops. Dublinbikes is a great example of a micromobility solutions and much of that comprises incidental use. We really want people to feel comfortable stepping up to electric scooters or bicycles to use them. What we really need to focus on is making the environment safe for people to do so. The majority of injuries and fatalities from bicycle usage involves collision with a vehicle, and I am not entirely convinced a piece of Styrofoam on my head will prevent injury being caused by an 18-wheel lorry.

I find myself somewhere between Deputies McAuliffe and Catherine Murphy in my assessment of the Bill. I am not quite as enthusiastic as Deputy McAuliffe but I certainly do not see it anyway as bad as how it was painted by Deputy Murphy. It is important work that will bring about many of the programme for Government commitments that we wanted to see, particularly around unlocking sustainable transport modes. That is my view in any case. I welcome the assurance we will have consolidation of the road traffic laws once we have this Bill passed through the Oireachtas.

I will start my consideration of specific provisions with electric bikes and scooters and micromobility provision. I wonder whether we have gone far enough. Electric bikes are very important for unlocking sustainable transport options and we have seen much research in the Dutch context in particular. These allow people to travel further and use bikes later in their lives, which has all sorts of attendant benefits around health etc.

I wonder about the adaptation kits that we see many food delivery drivers using, for example, and whether the legislation goes far enough to cover that. We speak about "pedal-assist" only, for example. It would be a difficult enforcement task to ask the police on the street to decide if something is a pedal-assist electric bike or one that does not require pedal-assist.

The electric scooters question is interesting. Research indicates they do not tend to displace car journeys but instead they tend to displace walking journeys. There is still certainly value in them when it comes to micromobility around cities, in particular. I am interested in looking at research on this, particularly use of demographics, specifying who uses electric scooters and what they use them for. It is something important to consider, particularly in light of the concerns raised by Deputy Catherine Murphy around clutter if we see the rental model coming in that we have seen in other jurisdictions.

I have a slight issue in the Bill with the question of providing for only one rider either of a electric scooter or bikes in general. When I was growing up, it was giving somebody a "backer". In the Dutch context they call it "dinking", which is a slightly nicer way of saying it. I have seen many people riding electric scooters "two up", as they call it, particularly young girls. We might miss this in legislation or are content to see it, as the Dutch do, "through fingers", which means they kind of choose to ignore it. Again, it may create an enforcement problem. Do we really want gardaí to stop two girls travelling down the road on an electric scooter? Perhaps we do. We should certainly consider that in the Bill.

I very much welcome the regulation of scramblers and quads and this is overdue. This is a major safety concern. Other Deputies have spoken more to the specific matter but I will refer briefly to the use of kissing gates. Never was a term less well applied as there is nothing romantic at all about kissing gates unless a person is kissing goodbye a friend on a cargo bike who cannot go through, or children in a double buggy who cannot go through or somebody on a mobility device who cannot fit through. As we are planning more sustainable and active transport and travel corridors, we must ensure they are fit for all those people. In particular, those reliant on mobility devices must be able to use segregated and safe infrastructure that is in place for them.

There is an omission from the Bill and I will consider tabling an amendment on Committee Stage. It relates to a reporting structure for close passes, which we have seen operating in other jurisdictions. If a person is subject to a close and dangerous pass on a bicycle, whether it is by a car, bus, truck or whatever, he or she should be able to use a video device, if one is being used, to make a report. There is value in that. The question has been asked whether people could falsify videos.

One role of a judge is to weigh up the evidence and make a finding based on the validity of that evidence. If we make a provision in the law that allows people to provide video evidence to prove instances of close passes in particular, I am confident the courts would be able to deal with, and it is a provision for which cycling advocacy groups have been pushing for.

I refer to the whole area of autonomous vehicles. Instead of considering driverless cars, I would prefer if we were discussing carless drivers and if people could get around their cities without the use of a car, be it autonomous, electric or whatever. We should consider other mobility solutions that do not involve a car. I am concerned about the provision of test beds for autonomous cars. The technology is improving, however, I do not believe it is sufficient as of yet. I worry deeply about beaconing which involves people tagging their locations. While this may not be included in the provisions of the Bill, it is certainly something we will have to consider in the future. We should not have to tag ourselves within a setting so that autonomous vehicles do not strike us. We should certainly not have to beacon our children. I am also concerned about the data gathering required for test beds. Who will have access to that data and to what extent will we give our data to the creators of this technology, allowing them to gather that data within an urban environment? This is an area we should consider in more detail.

3:35 pm

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome this wide-ranging Bill, as other speakers have. It includes many sensible provisions. The issue of scramblers has been raised often and it is a big problem in our urban areas and needs to be addressed. The Bill also deals with the issue of insurance. I am concerned with the slow pace of reform in this regard. Some progress has been made, although there are significant issues outstanding. Insurance companies in this State continue to rip off their customers. Costs are extortionate. Companies still use dual-pricing to target loyal and vulnerable customers who are charged premiums higher than the real cost of their policy. It is not right that insurance companies continue to be a law unto themselves. There is a need for firm legislative action to curb these sharp practices that cause people significant hardship, make businesses unviable, in some instances, put community organisation under pressure and keep young people off the road. Legislation that would ban this dual-pricing practice has been brought forward by my colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty, but the Government continues to block it. I urge the Minister of State to address that issue as soon as possible and to work with Deputy Doherty on this. The Government's Bill would reduce insurance costs for customers by precisely 0 cent in my estimation. The Government needs to work with Deputy Doherty's Bill.

I wish to raise the issue of driver tests, which is contained in the Bill. I note with concern the point raised by Deputy Sherlock yesterday about the fear some driver test instructors may be laid off. I find that hard to comprehend because the backlog of people waiting for a driver test has yet to be cleared. This has a major impact on people's ability to go about their lives, in particular, young people in rural areas or elsewhere who rely on a driver licence for independence. This issue is costing people money and their jobs. While the length of waiting times have reduced to some extent, they are still very long.

When discussing road safety, some of the biggest issues are localised and relate to the condition of footpaths, pedestrian crossings and other road safety measures such as speed ramps, etc. The purpose of this debate is not to discuss specific road junctions, but we have a systemic problem that applies to every local authority. It is not the case that one local authority is doing a great job and the rest are not. Most local authorities find it difficult to ensure the safety of pedestrians by introducing the measures they want, which is frustrating for local communities. I refer to the condition of roads and footpaths and the places where pedestrian crossings are required. They often come up against the obstacle of inadequate local government funding. This issue must be urgently addressed. These are the bread and butter issues that affect people's lives. It is an uphill battle to get traffic calming measures in place throughout the State. This is not only an issue in my constituency but everywhere, and it is caused by underfunding of local government.

Photo of Peter FitzpatrickPeter Fitzpatrick (Louth, Independent)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak today. I raised the issue of electric scooters on Leaders' Questions recently. This issue is becoming more serious as more electric scooters are used on our footpaths and roads. At present, electric scooters are not regulated in Ireland, with no specific law covering their use. They are considered mechanically propelled vehicles which should mean if they are used in public places, the user must hold a licence and insurance. I welcome the introduction of this Bill today, which will create a new classification in law of powered personal transporters, which will include electric scooters, and will legally allow their use in public places. The Bill will classify electric scooters as powered personal transporters with a minimum design speed of 6 km/h and a maximum speed of not more than 25 km/h. Local authorities will be afforded the power to set a lower speed limit of 20 km/h for electric scooters on specific roads. I note it would be an offence under the Bill to supply an electric scooter to a person under the age of 16 years and to drive an electric scooter while using a mobile phone or entertainment equipment. It would also be an offence for anyone travelling on an e-scooter to carry another person.

I welcome many of these provisions introduced in this Bill, but I also have a number of questions. Many e-scooters in use at present can travel at speeds in excess of 25 km/h. How will the introduction of these laws affect these devices? I have seen electric scooters travel at speeds in excess of 25 km/h on our roads and footpaths. The use of electric scooters has become increasingly popular in Ireland. This is evident in Dundalk, where it is common to see electric scooters on our roads and footpaths. It is one of the most frequently raised issues in my constituency offices. Many people, particularly pensioners, are concerned about the safety of these devices and the fact they can travel so quickly on our footpaths. It is clear their use is an accident waiting to happen. Somebody will be seriously injured our worse. I take no issue with electric scooters once they are used in a responsible manner with other road and footpath users respected. The major issue I envisage with the use of electric scooters is that in many instances users do not respect the rules of the road. We often see users of electric scooters travel through red lights or cut across traffic in towns, thereby putting other road users and pedestrians in danger. The use of electric scooters should be classified in the same way as the use of motorbikes under the cubic capacity of 50 cc and the same rules and regulations should therefore apply.

Far too often, the users of e-scooters have no understanding of the rules of the road. There must be a form of driver licence required to ride an electric scooter. Let us consider the situation in which a person on an electric scooter travelling on a road approaches a pedestrian crossing. In theory, the person must stop to allow another electric scooter user to cross the road. Insurance should be required to use electric scooters in public places or roads. If an electric scooter user hits a pedestrian on a footpath or on the road and causes him or her serious injury, who would be at fault for insurance purposes? How would the injured party be protected in this circumstance? If an electric scooter hits and damages a motor vehicle, how would the motor vehicle owner receive compensation for the damage done to his or her car? These are questions that need clarification. One can be sure these issues will arise and major problems will emerge as a result. The bottom line is that scooters travelling at 25 km/h have to potential to cause serious damage to other people and vehicles, while not required to have insurance. This is an issue we must address.

I note it will be an offence to supply an electric scooter to anyone under the age of 16 years, which again leads to many questions. To get around this obstacle, parents or other adults might buy the scooters. Will the parents who buy these scooters for under 16-year-olds be held responsible? Will this also be an offence for a child under 16 years?

One only has to look to any second-level school in the evening to see how many pupils are using electric scooters. Not all of these users are over the age of 16. What will happen to them now? Clarity is needed. Another issue that needs clarification is the proposed offence of using an electric scooter while using a phone or entertainment equipment. The vast majority of the users of these scooters usually wear headphones of some sort. This is a major distraction and should not be allowed. People who are riding an electric scooter and using headphones at the same time cannot be fully aware of their surroundings. Will it now be an offence to wear headphones while using an e-scooter?

I welcome the introduction of the provision making it an offence for users of electric scooters to carry another person. I have seen two people on the same scooter many times and to say that this is reckless is an understatement. Travelling at speeds of up to 25 km/h with two people on an e-scooter is extremely dangerous not only to the users, but to other road users and pedestrians.

I welcome the fact that we are finally getting around to introducing legislation to address the use of electric scooters. There are still too many questions to be answered. The Minister for Transport stated recently: "These proposals in the Bill should be seen as part of our wider efforts to encourage alternative forms of mobility, reduce our culture of reliance on the private car and open opportunities for active and healthy travel." While I agree with this statement in principle, we must not allow travel to become more dangerous. If we do not introduce proper rules and regulations regarding the use of e-scooters, this will happen. The use of e-scooters will not encourage safer driving. In fact, the opposite may be the case.

A number of areas need to be looked at more closely. A licensing system should be in place to show that users of e-scooters have an understanding of the rules of the road. It is simply not right that people with no previous experience of the road can use an e-scooter that has the potential to travel at speeds of up to 25 km/h without demonstrating that they have knowledge of the rules of the road. Insurance should be mandatory. How can we have a system in which one set of road users are legally obliged to have insurance while another set, the users of e-scooters and similar vehicles, are not? As I said earlier, who is responsible for the damage caused by e-scooters?

A Dutch company called Dott, which supplies e-scooter services in 16 cities, has stated that various measures should be implemented for users of e-scooters. These include the introduction of a minimum age of 16 and an upper speed limit of 25 km/h, a ban on the use of e-scooters on footpaths and mandatory insurance. I am pleased that some of these measures are being addressed but the most important ones are not being addressed, that is, insurance and the use of e-scooters on footpaths.

It is important that we also discuss the enforcement of these new regulations. How exactly will they be enforced? If a group of teenagers, all under the age of 16, leave school on their e-scooters, will An Garda Síochána be in a position to enforce the law? There will be many instances in which these regulations with regard to e-scooters are broken. The law will simply be unenforceable. We need to be aware of this and provide realistic solutions.

I will quickly comment on the other measures being introduced in this Bill. I welcome the introduction of laws to deal with the dangerous and antisocial use of scramblers and quad bikes. I also welcome the amendment to existing legislation to provide a robust underpinning for the motor insurance database, which will go towards combating the issue of uninsured drivers. The strengthening of the link between driver licensing and vehicle ownership records will enhance law enforcement capabilities with regard to traffic offences.

3:45 pm

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the introduction of this omnibus Bill to the House. I agree with previous speakers that its contents will make a significant improvement in a number of areas that affect road users across the State. This Bill deals with a number of different policy areas. I will use my time to address some of the most significant issues.

Crucially, this legislation will begin the process of regularising the use of electric scooters and certain electric bikes as well as providing for other forms of micromobility in the future. As the Minister of State will be aware, in March of this year I introduced a Private Member's Bill to do just this. I am pleased that she and the Government have acted on this issue. This will result in safer roads.

E-scooters and e-bikes are a common sight on our roads and streets across Ireland and have been for a number of years. They provide a clean, sustainable and effective way of completing the last mile of a journey and provide people with an alternative means of getting from A to B. Despite their frequent use and presence on our streets, they remain illegal. Fine Gael has been active in pursuing legislation in this area both in the previous Dáil, through myself, my former colleague, Noel Rock, and others, and in this Dáil, with the assistance of the Minister of State. The programme for Government set out an ambition for us to see the use of these vehicles legislated for and regulated. The introduction of the Bill will be a positive day for many users of e-scooters and e-bikes and for the businesses involved in their sale. The creation of a new class of vehicle in this Bill will see e-bikes and e-scooters no longer classified as mechanically propelled vehicles but rather as personal powered transporters, PPTs. Importantly, the Bill will give the Minister the ability to address future technologies and micromobility options under this category of vehicle, allowing us to be more proactive and less reactive in this field of transport. We are currently confined under the Roads Acts.

I am also pleased that the creation of the PPT category will see these vehicles exempt from requiring insurance, licensing, tax and registration. They will be treated like bicycles, which are capable of far exceeding these vehicles' speeds. We must regulate for the safe use of these vehicles but, in doing so, we should not create barriers to their use. These vehicles are electric and environmentally friendly and provide people with a climate-responsible option for travelling across our cities, towns and villages.

I regularly speak in this House about the need to create a more environmentally-friendly society, which would not only benefit our personal health, but also reduce emissions and pollution and protect the planet, allowing us to pass on a healthy and habitable earth to our children and grandchildren. This also offers great possibilities to Ireland and its people. The green economy is a chance for Ireland to capture significant investment and attract international companies, while also developing global companies here at home. Historians often remark that Ireland missed the Industrial Revolution and, in the time that followed it, swept away what remnants there were in respect of our railways. In doing so, we missed the rewards of such development. We are now in a position to be a leader in a new green industrial revolution, which has the potential to bring new levels of prosperity to our country while providing sustainable jobs for our people well into the future. We can achieve this if we have the will and imagination to act. By regulating and legislating for PPTs such as e-scooters and e-bikes, we can begin to foster growth in these companies, some of which are Irish or have expressed an interest in entering the Irish market, having been unable to do so to date. Some of the companies that have their origins in Ireland started out in third-level institutions such as Dublin City University and University College Dublin.

There are, rightly, some concerns among the public regarding the safety of these vehicles. Speed limitation devices, minimum age requirements for their use and offences relating to driving without consideration are all areas that should be considered in the context of this Bill. Moreover, we should consider the role of ride-sharing companies and the place they will hold in the micromobility sector in Ireland in the not-too-distant future. While yesterday evening the Minister of State rightly pointed out that the operation of these types of schemes will be managed by local authorities, we should consider what that means. As has been mentioned, Ireland is behind the curve with regard to this technology when compared with our European partners. This will allow us to learn from the mistakes of others and avoid the pitfalls they have experienced. To this end, I believe that full harmonisation should take place in respect of ride-sharing schemes implemented by local authorities, which I presume will happen next year. The NTA has a significant role to play in the process, setting out standards and requirements.

Furthermore, any ride-sharing service should be geofenced. This simply means that e-scooters and e-bikes must be returned to a specific and designated location by the user at the end of a journey. This is not dissimilar to the way in which DublinBikes scheme, among others, operates. Stands on our roads will be required as e-scooters, in particular, tend not to stand by themselves. Experience in other jurisdictions shows that electric scooters do not stand on their own unless delivered with a stand, which is unlikely in a ride-sharing operation. We do not want to see them lying about on the street.

The introduction of geofencing will avoid this scenario. One of my colleagues attended an Inter-Parliamentary Union, IPU, conference in Rome recently and told me e-scooters were all over the streets there, which shows some people are not learning from the experience of other jurisdictions.

The distance these vehicles can travel greatly exceeds how far somebody might travel on a bicycle. For instance, DublinBikes stations are limited to the area between the canals, whereas an electric scooter has the capacity to travel up to 30 km. On that basis, consideration should be given, particularly in cities and counties where there are multiple local authorities, to designating one or two providers for that area, as opposed to local authorities approaching different organisations. Accordingly, if I wanted to get on a scooter in Dublin city, whether at Busáras or Heuston Station, and travel to Howth, which I would be well able to do on an electric scooter, I could leave it in Howth. That is why uniformity is required by local authorities and the NTA has a significant role to play in that regard.

I had prepared a longer contribution but my time has expired.

3:55 pm

Photo of Denise MitchellDenise Mitchell (Dublin Bay North, Sinn Fein)
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I welcome the opportunity to speak to this important Bill and to address, in particular, the section on scramblers. Sinn Féin has moved a number of motions and Bills on this topic in this Dáil and previous Dáileanna and it is good the issue is finally being acted on. Scramblers plague communities throughout Dublin Bay North and people are fed up. They are sick of not being able to go out for a walk or go to the playground with their kids because of the noise pollution from these bikes going up and down their roads morning, noon and night. People have been seriously injured when they have been involved in incidents with scramblers. There have been countless cases of people ending up with life-changing injuries because of them. Recently, in my constituency, a young mother was knocked down and remains seriously injured in Beaumont Hospital. The vehicles are driven dangerously by people who do not have a licence and are not insured or even taxed. I hope the Bill will change parents' attitudes and make them think twice about buying these bikes for their children at Christmas. They are a danger to everybody and a scourge on our communities. Enough is enough. Our communities deserve better.

I welcome section 5, which will create the offence of dangerous driving in any place and address some of the issues the Garda has had in securing successful prosecutions. I welcome also section 11, which will allow the Minister to make other vehicles similar to scramblers fall under these new laws. We need to ensure the Garda is resourced fully to tackle the scourge of these bikes in our communities. As I said, people in my constituency are beyond tired of having to deal with this daily. It is important people can go about their business without the fear of being injured or, worse, even ending up in hospital because of these bikes.

The Bill has been a long time coming, but I am grateful, on behalf of my community, that the Government has finally realised the need for legislation on this issue.

Photo of Steven MatthewsSteven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I thank the Minister of State for bringing the Bill to the House. Many aspects of it are long overdue and need to be addressed, especially given we have to address spiralling transport emissions and the planning of the past 40 or 50 years that has led to car dependency and urban sprawl. We urgently need to get people onto public transport, but it is difficult to provide high-frequency public transport when settlement is so dispersed. The NTA recently appeared before the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications, of which I am a member, and many Deputies from all parties expressed enthusiasm about investment in public transport and rail and bus services.

The national development plan, whose review we recently launched, covers well the 2:1 split there will be in respect of investment in public transport versus new roads, along with considerable investment in active travel such as cycling, walking and safe routes to school. While we try our best to get people out of cars and onto public transport, many of those journeys, before they step onto the train, the bus or whatever it may be, involve active travel, whether by walking or cycling to the train station or whatever the case may be. That is where we have to focus our investment. Our inter-town objectives, and what we want to do to get people to be able to travel between towns more easily, are good and solid and there is investment in that. The issue is with intra-town travel, that is, where people try to get around their towns or children try to walk to school safely. Many of our towns have become quite hostile for children to walk around. I walk my children to school some mornings and it is dangerous for them. Many of the roads are dangerous for them to cycle on and the footpaths in many of our towns are narrow and dangerous to walk on. Many car drivers seem to think it is fine to keep the carriageway free but block the footpath. I recall an Oireachtas committee meeting about this, when the Road Safety Authority stated it was considering a publicity campaign to promote keeping footpaths free of vehicles. That is something we still have to aim for because it is a problem.

The Bill will address e-scooters, which will be a significant part of that move to active travel. As a transport mode, they are relatively easy to use, although I have had a go on an e-scooter and it does take a little practice. I would recommend people not go full throttle straight away because it takes a little getting used to. We need to introduce that legislation. I have seen e-scooters travelling at varying speeds and with varying standards of construction. Some of them look pretty flimsy. The legislation will mean there will be guidelines on the legal use of these scooters, relating to where they can be used, who can use them, permitted speeds and so on, and that is critical.

E-bikes, too, are incorporated into the legislation. It is critical that we be agile in our legislation to accommodate technology as it improves. Deputy Ó Cathasaigh mentioned automated vehicles. While they are not yet on the roads, we do not know how long it will be before they are. It could be a decade before we see them on the roads or it could be much quicker than that, given technology moves so fast. It is good that our legislation is agile, incorporating that aspect and allowing for that test bed and those opportunities in order that when technology advances, as it is doing and work is being done in that regard, our legislation will be there to cover it. It is critical that we legislate for it.

I do not know how many ordinary cycling or walking journeys might be replaced by e-scooters. I would much rather see whether short car journeys of 2 km or 3 km, which cause so much congestion in our towns in the mornings, will be replaced by e-scooters, rather than them replacing the journeys of people who already cycle or walk, and that will be a challenge. Throughout that switch, we need to provide safe infrastructure. Whether we walk, cycle or use an e-scooter, we need safe infrastructure to be in place. There is no doubt about that.

Part of the Bill addresses the traffic management measures on the M50. I have not driven on the M50 for quite a while because I now use the DART to get into and out of town but in my previous role I used the M50 frequently. Driving on that motorway, there are points where, for no reason, the traffic just backs up and it creates unsafe circumstances as drivers try to weave in and out and save 30 m on their journey.

It does create unsafe situations. If we are putting measures in place that will slow traffic down, then there should be good advance warning that is happening to keep the traffic flowing. People do not get as frustrated when they are in flowing traffic, even though they might be slowed down to 60 km/h or 80 km/h, or whatever it may be. It is good safe traffic management and I welcome that aspect of the Bill as well.

4:05 pm

Photo of Mark WardMark Ward (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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We debated scramblers in this House previously. There is a need for legislation to stop the misuse of these motorbikes and to deal with the scourge of these machines. Sinn Féin has been consistent on this issue right from the start. My colleagues, Deputies Ellis and Munster, introduced legislation on this issue in previous stalls and a group that included myself and Deputy Paul Donnelly introduced legislation during this Dáil. It is needed, because in areas such as mine we have seen scramblers destroy public spaces and football pitches, resulting in matches having been called off. We have also seen the other aspect of the harm these machines cause, with some high-profile incidents where people have been badly injured and, in some cases, killed by scrambler bikes. We need robust legislation to stop this type of activity happening again because these machines are weapons in untrained hands. As was also mentioned earlier, we have also seen unscrupulous gangsters and criminals using younger people on scramblers to transport drugs and money. Legislation must be brought in to tighten up that aspect as well, and Sinn Féin has proposed such legislation in the past. It has always been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I am glad to see the Government taking heed of what we have introduced before.

E-bikes are new and something I have seen around my area. I have used them, not here, but when I was over in Brussels, in Belgium. I found them convenient to get around. We must have regulations in place, however, that will safeguard the people using the e-bikes and the public. We must tease out details such as whether these machines can be used on roads, footpaths and cycle paths, where lights will be necessary and at what age they can be used. All that kind of detail will have to be explored.

I drive a hybrid car and I am conscious that new electric technology makes everything quieter. People do not hear electric cars and e-bikes coming. One of my constituents has a visually-impaired child and it used to be possible to let that child go out to play without any fear, because she could hear a car coming and get off the road. There are not many cars on that road and she would be able to hear them. One day, however, there was an electric car and it was not possible for her to hear it. Nothing happened, thank God, but it could have. I went to the local authority seeking to have signage put up to warn drivers coming down the road that there was a visually-impaired child there, but that was turned down. Therefore, as well as requiring legislation on e-bikes, we must also ensure that the local authorities are resourced appropriately to allow them to put in protective measures in this regard.

The extension of the Luas to Lucan was promised in 2008, but the report that came out this week stated that it could be 2031, at the earliest, before that happens. Deputy Ó Broin and I had a comprehensive transport study undertaken in and around the Lucan area. Transport was one of the major issues that arose on the doorsteps when we were canvassing before the election. BusConnects is coming, but that is not the panacea that will solve everybody’s problems. We must start looking outside the box regarding this issue, because BusConnects is only part of the solution.

Photo of Michael McNamaraMichael McNamara (Clare, Independent)
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I concur with Deputy Ward regarding the necessity to regulate scramblers, etc. When his Bill, or at least a Sinn Féin Bill, was being debated in the House previously I raised the issue of regulating jet skis. I appreciate that the regulation of jet skis is not something that belongs in a road traffic Bill, but nevertheless it is something that must be regulated because of the nuisance and the danger they can cause to humans and to livestock, especially when they are being used in areas not accustomed to them. I raised this matter previously and it is something on which I would like the Government to bring forward legislation.

Regarding talking about what does not belong in a road traffic Bill, I concur with the previous contributor who spoke about how impenetrable our road traffic laws typically are. They are impenetrable and that can be seen if we look at the consolidated legislation. I know it is possible to look at the consolidated legislation on the website of the Law Reform Commission, LRC, but not everybody does. Even as someone who has had the benefit of legal education and training, and many would say it was wasted on me, but nevertheless I had the benefit of it, I find it hard to read some of the legislation. It is completely impenetrable to ordinary people and it is almost Byzantine in how it is put together. There are amendments to amendments to amendments going all the way back to the Road Traffic Act 1961. I am not sure that it is fit for purpose anymore. When is all of this going to end?

Here is another amending Bill, which I think has 12 Parts, with 12 completely different amendments to the existing legislation. They are completely disparate and unrelated, except in that they all relate to road traffic. We must start to see consolidated legislation in this area at some stage. There is a discussion concerning consolidated legislation in respect of the Health Act, but that is only by necessity because Ministers gave commitments that things would not be rolled over and now those things will be rolled over, so there must be consolidated legislation. That is one reason to bring in consolidated legislation. There is a better reason to do that than to help a Minister to keep his word in circumstances where he meant what he said but did not mean that the effect of the legislation would not be rolled over. In that instance, the Minister meant that it would not be section 4 of the 2020 Act, for example, but section 8 of the 2021 Act, but it will do the same thing. More importantly, however, the general point is that legislation must be coherent and accessible and our road traffic legislation is not. That must be remedied.

I turn now to one specific Part, which I was surprised to see in the Bill. I refer to Part 5, which regulates licences for driving instructors. Section 18 in the Road Traffic Act 1968 provides for that. Part 5 of this legislation, however, brings in a whole new grouping of persons who are automatically disqualified from holding a licence and a grouping of persons who are automatically disqualified for a period from holding a licence. In that context, anybody who has committed murder or rape is disqualified for life from holding a licence to be a driving instructor. I commend and praise anything that makes it safer for the public to receive driving instruction. That goes without saying and I think we all do. Murder and rape are heinous offences, and that also goes without saying, and I abhor and condemn such offences, and whatever other similar words one might want to use to describe such crimes.

There is a sense, however, that people do the crime, do the time and then perhaps carry on with their lives afterwards. Now, I do not know how many convicted murderers are driving instructors. I suspect very few. Convicted murderers are released on licence, and not just released after 12 years, and one of the conditions attached is that they never cannot enter a licensed premises thereafter. I do not know whether that condition is policed. The more important point in this respect, though, is that although there are many recidivist offenders in our criminal justice system and in our society, there is a very low incidence of people convicted of murder reoffending. That fact should be borne in mind.

I am not making a cheap political point, but are some of the people released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, GFA, now driving instructors and, if so, have those people committed any offences since? If they have not, then I would question the danger that people like them - just anybody else who has done their time and not committed any offences since - pose to society. I dare say it is relatively low and perhaps lower than that posed by many others, yet these people are being automatically disqualified from doing anything. It is a novel step in our criminal justice system. This measure is contained in a Road Traffic Act, but it is effectively a consequence of a criminal offence and something we should think about and tease out regarding whether we want it.

To take an example from abroad, the Lebanese criminal code is full of things that one cannot do for life or for a certain period, and I suppose that comes from the legacy of the Ottoman legal system. That is not the way our system operated. I am sure that the Minister of State will have seen Les Misérables, and I appreciate that as a singer she may even have sung it, but the central debate within that work of artistic fiction centres on whether somebody can be rehabilitated and be trusted after committing an offence or whether they are forever damned by the mark of the offence committed.

It is a serious question and one that should not, with respect, be thrown in as an addendum to an item of road traffic legislation. It should be fully debated.

There are a number of offences for which one receives a three-year disqualification from holding a driving instructor's licence. In the event that a prison sentence is imposed, the three years run from when the prison sentence ends. These are serious offences which I abhor and condemn. People who commit them should be tried and punished if found guilty. However, I wonder about the coherence of the disqualification period. Manslaughter is included, for example. I am not for a moment suggesting that manslaughter is not a very serious offence that should be punished but a number of other offences are included. Any offence under the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act, other than section 2 or section 6, attracts an automatic three-year disqualification period. Section 2 is an assault and section 6 is a syringe attack. Piercing somebody's skin, or threatening to pierce somebody's skin, with a syringe is a very serious offence, perhaps as serious as any other offence. That is my subjective opinion on offences. Threatening somebody with a syringe or piercing their skin with a syringe happens in circumstances where the fear the perpetrator wishes to instil is that the victim is going to contract HIV. To me, that is a very serious offence and one which displays a particular amount of forethought. If offences that attract a particular disqualification are to be included in the legislation, why not that offence? Will the Minister of State explain to this House why she thinks persons guilty of that offence should be excluded if some offences are going to attract a disqualification. I have a philosophical question about this part of the legislation. We should be asking whether people pose a risk to society because they may reoffend If they do, certain measures must be taken to protect the public but if they do not, why are we tarring everybody with the same brush and presuming that anybody who has committed a particular offence is a risk to society or to those they instruct when others are not? For example, somebody who has committed a syringe attack is not a risk, nor is somebody who has committed an assault, but somebody who has committed assault causing harm is a risk. Someone who has committed a syringe attack is not a risk. I have a question mark about that.

Several offences under the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act are listed among those offences that attract automatic disqualifications. Offences under sections 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 22 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act are included. Those are all very serious offences that I condemn and abhor, particularly as the father of a young daughter. I shudder to think of some of these offences, but why are these offences listed whereas section 18 of the same Act is not? Perhaps it is not on the Statute Book anymore. I think it is, but I am open to correction. Section 18 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act is an offence committed by a person in authority. Someone who committed all of the offences listed under other sections of that Act cannot be a driving instructor but a person who committed an offence while in a position of authority can be a driving instructor. What is the coherence of that? Whose personal morality informed this legislative provision? How is it coherent with the objectives of the legislation? Surely one of the risks with a driving instructor is that they will abuse their authority and yet section 18 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 is not among the scheduled offences.

More importantly, given the debate we have just had, section 21 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act refers to a sexual act with a protected person and is not among the offences listed in the legislation we are considering. I meant to print the definition of "a sexual act" and bring it to the House but I did not. In any event, a sexual act with a protected person is committing a sexual act with somebody who does not have the capacity to consent and who does not understand the nature of the act involved because of their lack of capacity. That is not an offence that requires a disqualification but, for example, having been involved in a riot does require a disqualification. I abhor riots and political violence of any type. Riots can sometimes be political. Involvement in a riot does involve a disqualification but having committed a sexual act with a protected person who is unable to consent to the act because they do not understand what is going on does not require a disqualification. Where is the coherence to that?

I question the coherence of the Schedule. More fundamentally, we need to look at the risk posed to the public by persons who have been convicted and have served a sentence. I would like to think we live in a society where people can be rehabilitated. I would like to think that is the purpose of our criminal justice system. Even though I sometimes suspect to the contrary and that our criminal justice system, in particular our jails, are about brutalising people, I would like to think perhaps they could be about rehabilitating people. This legislation is one of the first I am aware of, although there may be may others, that assumes that because a person has been convicted, they remain a danger to society once they come out of jail having served their time. The legislation covers a whole raft of offences and, philosophically, I would question that. Is the Minister of State telling these people if they have committed an act, been convicted by their peers and served their time, they will thereafter always be a danger to society in the case of some offences, or for at least three years in the case of others? If that is the case, I would at least ask the Minister of State to ensure the approach is coherent and serves its objectives. I presume those objectives are not to punish people further because if that was the case, it would be part of criminal justice legislation that would go before the justice committee for debate, rather than a part of road safety legislation as it is.

I would welcome any contribution, discussion or point the Minister of State would like to make in response to my points about Part 5 and the licensing of instructors before the Bill proceeds to Committee Stage. I am aware this Bill was pulled at the last minute last week and may not have received as much attention from the parliamentary draftsman as might otherwise have been the case. That is not a reason to advance legislation which is incoherent or legislation which introduces a new philosophical departure for how we deal with the punishment of criminal offences in this State.

Debate Adjourned.