Thursday, 11 November 2021
Road Traffic and Roads Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Road Traffic and Roads Bill 2021, a wide-ranging Bill that seeks to regulate e-scooters, e-bikes and the newly installed dynamic traffic management system on the M50. The Bill also includes measures to increase the speed of the implementation of BusConnects and underpins the investment in a much-improved public transport system.
Significantly, the Bill also introduces legislation to deal with dangerous and antisocial off-road use of scramblers, quads and similar vehicles. There are amendments to strengthen laws concerning insurance and road traffic law enforcement. These measures will help to improve road safety while helping us to drive down the cost of insurance for law-abiding drivers. These initiatives will help us to advance towards our ambitious shared EU Vision Zero objective of eliminating deaths and serious injuries on our roads by 2050.
While I generally welcome the Bill as part of the Government's efforts to introduce and encourage alternative modes of mobility, give people more options and reduce our reliance on cars, I believe there are issues with it. I hope the Minister will be open to amendments on Committee Stage.
I will deal with each of the principal aspects of the Bill in turn. Currently, both e-bikes and e-scooters come under the definition of a mechanically propelled vehicle, MPV. A person driving or riding an MPV must have insurance, tax and a licence. This has caused confusion as there is no specific licence available for an e-scooter or e-bike.
Section 16(e) of this Bill amends the 1961 Act and defines a new category of vehicle, the powered personal transporter, PPT, and sets out certain technical details characterising such vehicles. The explanatory memorandum to the Bill states, "This vehicle category is intended to encompass a range of small, lightweight micro-mobility vehicles such as e-scooters, electric skateboards, segways, hoverboards, etc. which are not accurately captured within the vehicle categories as set out in the 1961 Act due to technological innovations in the intervening years."
Section 16(b)(ii) amends the Road Traffic Act 1961 to exempt PPTs from the definition of an MPV. This means there will be legal clarity meaning PPTs such as e-scooters and e-bikes can be used without the need for registration, tax, licensing and insurance conditions, as are necessary for MPVs.
Part 12 also defines an e-bike for the first time in Irish legislation and differentiates between low-powered and high-powered models. Many of the amendments in Part 12 are technical and add the term PPT or PPTs to existing legislation. While e-bikes and e-scooters will not be treated as MPVs, there is still legislation that prohibits drink driving on a bike and speeding and this will extend to PPTs.
The Bill clarifies that PPTs are also required to be roadworthy and may be examined by a garda to ensure they do not have a dangerous defect. It will be an offence to supply a powered personal transporter to a person under the age of 16 years. This is somewhat problematic. I hope consideration will be given to reducing the age, perhaps for low-powered PPTs, or restricted-speed models, to allow children over 12 – basically all secondary school children – to use an e-bike to get around. E-bikes are popular in that age category in secondary schools.
Section 109A will give the Garda significant powers to crack down on antisocial and reckless criminal behaviour of those using scramblers and quad bikes. Provisional RSA statistics show that, in the period 2014 to 2019, three of the six people who died in Ireland as a result of an incident involving a quad bike or scrambler were aged 18 or under. The RSA statistics also show that, between 2014 and 2019, 60 people were injured in collisions involving a quad bike or scrambler on a public road. Of those killed or injured, 41% were 18 years of age or under. My Fianna Fáil colleague, Deputy McAuliffe, has already dealt with this issue in detail so I do not propose to repeat what was said other than to compliment him and my colleague, Deputy Lahart, for championing this issue in the House.
Part 4 of the Bill introduces amendments concerning the information that motor insurers must provide to the Motor Insurance Bureau Ireland and the use of this information.
Section 56 of the Road Traffic Act 1961 stipulates that every person using an MPV in a public area must have an approved motor insurance policy. This Bill will ensure insurance companies will have to provide details to the Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland within five working days. This will be useful for gardaí. It should enhance enforcement and drive down the cost of motor insurance for responsible drivers.
I note improvements to fixed-charge penalties included in Part 7 of the Bill, which amends the Local Authorities (Traffic Wardens) Act 1975 and will treat fixed-charge notices issued by traffic wardens in the same way as those issued by An Garda under Part 3 of the Road Traffic Act 2010. This means a person will have another opportunity to pay a fixed penalty, at the point of summons, before the case goes to court for offences specified in the section, such as parking offences. That is particularly welcome because cases in this regard are clogging up our courts. I would say the vast majority of the cases before the District Court concern road traffic offences.
The Bill introduces provisions to deal with variable speed limits on the M50, in addition to technical amendments on novice drivers and driving instructors. All are welcome.
I hope the Minister will have regard to my suggestion to allow all second level students to use e-bikes and consider points raised by Deputies on e-scooters to ensure there is not a free-for-all. Concern in this regard was the main deterrent to introducing legislation.
It might be useful if the committee hears from experts in this area to reach a cross-party consensus. Disability advocates and groups representing older people, for example, have concerns, and they need to be heard. I hope we can amend the existing legislation. I hope we can make progress on this Bill because its provisions are certainly demanded and needed. We need regulation, but the vehicles in question are very popular and people want to see them introduced on our roads.
I welcome the publication of this legislation. Along with my colleagues on the transport and communications committee, which I chair, I engaged in pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. We are very much involved in it. E-scooters were not included in the original draft where pre-legislative scrutiny was concerned. We covered the matter as best we could. We ask that, in order to have substantial pre-legislative scrutiny, all aspects of a Bill be made available. The e-scooter aspect is quite substantial and should have been subjected to pre-legislative scrutiny. We scrutinised what was available to us based on submissions made and briefs provided to us by the Department, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton.
I want to refer to several points related to the legislation. We await Committee Stage, on which I expect the committee and Ministers to spend a significant amount of time. We were asked to expedite the pre-legislative scrutiny and we did so last July. It is important that we get this right. We are in a fast-changing world. There is a need for legislation.
The Bill is called the Road Traffic and Roads Bill 2021. It probably should include a reference to e-scooters or some such term in the Title. While the Bill deals with the road traffic aspect, the matter of e-scooters and e-bikes is very new. I would like to see the Bill before the committee as quickly as possible so it can be given time and so we will reach a point where everyone will work together to have something that works.
Let me deal with a couple of aspects. On the road traffic aspect, my colleagues on the transport committee and I visited the Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, control room for the M50 and other locations last Tuesday.
In practice, what is being proposed relates to improving safety and improving certainty in terms of travel time on the M50, particularly around Dublin. However, there is a significant body of work to be done in the respect of communicating to the public how it will work. The way the traffic light system will work is that there will be indications on the big signs that are in place and the speed limits will change in various locations, depending on traffic. The key thing for people to realise is that when the limits change, that is because there is a problem and they need to slow down. They need to realise that TII is trying to get people to their destination more quickly. The limits will change because the traffic control system is indicating there has been a breakdown up ahead or there is congestion in a certain location. That is very important.
I note the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has stated that he is bringing forward legislation on the active travel side for infrastructure. The question is whether that is coming through in this Bill. We have not had sight of it. It is a matter we will have to consider in depth at committee. My concern relates to being able to give such a substantive body of legislation the scrutiny it requires. That is something about which I feel very strongly. We are a Parliament. We are here to scrutinise legislation, working together to make something that functions effectively. It is old-fashioned but, in my experience, if legislation is scrutinised at committee and in the Dáil and Seanad, it is improved through that process. The scrutiny debugs it. It is a trial run. Specific areas of legislation that may not otherwise be picked up are considered when that scrutiny is applied. It serves a common purpose.
I welcome the changes relating to scramblers. There is a serious problem with scramblers in Limerick. Many of them are being driven on private property. It seems to me that under the legislation the Garda will be able to enter onto private property, although not into homes. There have been situations in Limerick where people have been terrorised. In many cases, it is young men or women who are driving the scramblers. I very much welcome the provisions in that regard in the Bill but I am seeking certainty on how it will operate in practice.
I refer to e-scooters. It is very important that we get this right. Deputies have been contacted on the issue by disability groups. Will e-scooters be allowed on footpaths? Will there be designated parking areas for e-scooters and e-bikes, rather than their being parked in a disorderly way? There may be a wider issue in connection with the fact that under EU Regulation No. 540/2014 all manufacturers must equip new electronic and hybrid vehicles with an acoustic vehicle alerting system. I have been in electric cars. They make no sound. That issue is being raised by members of the public. It is very important that all electric bikes and e-scooters should sound almost like a normal car or bike because in many cases they creep up on people who are completely unaware of their approach. It is very dangerous. That is a very simple measure that would deal with an issue that members of the public bring to my attention all the time. We want electric vehicles because they are good for the environment and on a myriad of levels but, in the interests of safety, people must be able to hear them approaching.
To go back to the issue of age limits, I take the point by Deputy Berry regarding the age limit being 16 and how that works. How will it be enforced? If a person of 13 or 14 years of age is driving an e-scooter or an e-bike on a footpath, how will the rules be enforced in the context of their age profile? In life, the great majority of people abide by the law. It is a very small number of people who do not do so but they wreak havoc. They take up infinite State resources. We must ensure the law is enforceable but not so strict as to be draconian for the general population. That is a difficult line to find but it needs to be considered.
I very much welcome the measure relating to the Motor Insurers Bureau of Ireland, whereby insurers will have to give information within five days. That should catch people who may have stopped their insurance. How quickly will that be up and running? Who will have access to it? This relates to the wider area of insurance. In life, knowledge is king. The insurance companies should be working with all stakeholders, such as the State, the Garda and the Government, to improve safety and bring down premiums and this must work in favour of the consumer as well. It is a very good measure. When will it be up and running? Who will have access to it?
To go back to the issue of powered personal transporters, PPTs, I and many of my colleagues have been told by many of the providers in the area that limiting the battery power to 250 W is insufficient on the grounds of safety. The e-scooter or e-bike might not be able to go up a hill. I am not technically competent to comment on that, but I know that it is coming at us like a steam train and we must ensure it does not get out of control. As such, we should consider the issue of the wattage of e-scooters and e-bikes because the claims of the providers may be correct.
There is a need for this to be a structured operation. Many of the e-scooters and e-bikes will be rentals and I do not think that is covered under legislation. The Minister of State indicated they will be subject to regulations similar to those in place for bicycles. How will that operate in practice? There needs to be designated parking spaces for e-bikes. There is a need to ensure they cannot be driven on footpaths. I refer to the age groups and how the rules in that regard are enforced. Is there a case for restricting the younger age group to a lower wattage? Can we encourage people to use them to travel to school? I reiterate that must be done in a safe way.
People are talking about the rules of the road and whatever. We need to carry out an overall review of the rules for car drivers and bike users in order to consider what we can do to make it safer. What can we do to make it safer for cyclists and pedestrians? Where designated cycle lanes are provided, what is the legal situation if a bike does not use that cycle lane but instead uses the road? How do we ensure that car drivers are fully conversant with the rules of the road in respect of cyclists? Many of them probably are not. We want to encourage more people to use bikes and e-scooters. That is good for the environment but it must be done in a safe and coherent way.
In advance of the Bill coming before the Committee on Transport and Communications, I ask that the committee be given good notice of the amendments that will be proposed and that adequate time be set aside to look at this issue. Obviously, it is confined in the context of the membership of the committee, but Deputies who are not members of the committee are very welcome to join the meeting and engage in debate on the specific sections of the Bill and the consideration of amendments. What we want to do is to get legislation that is fit for purpose.
Let us do it in the old fashioned way, namely, by going through the Bill section by section and debating them and by looking at the amendments and debating them. We may not agree with them but aside from the work we do in our constituency, which is hugely important to me, we are elected to be parliamentarians.
I am very excited by this legislation. What we need to do now is to put in the time to scrutinise all aspects of it. We welcome it coming forward on Committee Stage in the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport.
Táim ag roinnt mo chuid ama. Beidh 15 nóiméad agam agus cúig nóiméad ag an Teachta Cronin. Tá sé go maith go bhfuil deis againn labhairt ar an mBille seo. Déanfaidh sé athruithe áirithe do rialacha an bhóthair maidir le gluaisteáin agus na bealaí ina n-úsáideann muid na bóithre agus na cosáin. Baineann sé le scramblers, quads, e-rothair agus e-scooters agus forálacha eile maidir leis an M50 agus a leithéid, mar a luaigh na Teachtaí a labhair romham. Tá sé thar am go mbogfadh an Stát chun déileáil leis an gcrá croí leanúnach atá ann i gceantair áirithe sa chathair seo agus i gceantair agus bailte eile chuile Nollaig agus tríd an mbliain ar fad nuair a bhíonn quads nó scramblers ag rásaíocht gan stad suas agus síos na bóithre agus na heastáit tithíochta nó i bpáirceanna poiblí. Thar na blianta, chuala muid agus chonaic muid an damáiste a dhéanann siad, damáiste do dhaoine san áireamh. Tá roinnt daoine óga tar éis bás a fháil agus daoine eile tar éis a bheith gortaithe go dona toisc an bealach ina bhfuil na gléasanna seo á n-úsáid. Is innealra iad. Tá áit ann dóibh. Ní cóir é fáil réidh leo go hiomlán mar tá gá leo in áiteanna áirithe, go háirithe ar fheirmeacha agus i bhforaoisí agus áiteanna dá leithéid. Níl ról ann do quads i lár mo cheantair féin nó in aon áit atá tógtha mar sin. Tá ceisteanna móra anseo nach bhfuil freagartha. Táim ag tagairt do cheisteanna faoi chlogaid agus árachas agus faoi cad a tharlaíonn má leagann daoine ar e-scooter nó rothar páiste nó duine níos sine.
I do not want to be a killjoy. I do not want to try to prevent the growth of e-scooters or the likes in this city. I understand fully the benefits that they have for commuters and society as a whole in terms of how people get to and from work and the like, and how they will benefit us in terms of climate change. People will not be stuck sitting in cars with the engine running, as they will be able to get about a lot quicker on scooters. However, I have niggling doubts around the issue of insurance, given the speed at which some of these vehicles travel, whether it is an e-scooter or a motorised bicycle, which we see a lot more of today. Some people have converted such bikes themselves. It is not just about motorised bikes; old pedal bikes are also an issue. If a person on a bike hits a pedestrian who happens to step out in front of them, as far is I am aware, the law is very unsure as to who is to blame and who can make a claim. When I was pulling into my drive, a bicycle hit the side of the car. I had to cover the loss of the damage to the car; the cyclist had to cover the loss of the damage to his bike. It is a lacuna in the law. He should not have been on the path in any event but it is one of those issues.
I believe a lot more training must be provided on the rules of the road. Many people speak of witnessing cyclists coming up to a set of traffic lights and swinging round to the left. I am not just talking about such cases. Yes, that should not happen. Such behaviour is not as dangerous that of some of road users, who go straight through traffic lights, yellow boxes and the like with no regard whatsoever. Not so long ago, I saw four people riding on an e-scooter. Four fully grown adults went through the traffic lights on a scooter. I cannot think of anything worse. Dangerous and crazy stuff happens on the road. That is why we need more gardaí to police that aspect and dangerous driving. That is what it is, whether it is on a bicycle, an e-scooter or in a car. We do not have enough gardaí. If we do not have enough gardaí, then we need to look at ensuring that An Garda Síochána is fully resourced, that the traffic corps or the roads policing unit has the required supports needed to tackle not just the antisocial crime that we see on the Luas, the DART or mainline trains, but also what happens on the road.
That is not part of this Bill; it is part of an overall package. We are trying to win people over. I have heard all those who have whinged about people on scooters and so on. It is very easy to target one group or other or to dismiss them. E-scooters are here to stay, whether people like them or not. Like every other form of transport in this city or other cities, we need to educate those who are in charge of them. I did not see it, and it might be included in the legislation, but we must highlight the need for visibility. If you are using the road in the city, you must be visible. I presume that not many would be travelling along rural roads on scooters outside of the city, but they may be. Users of scooters should wear high-visibility clothing and use lights. People might ask where you would put lights on an e-scooter. There must be lights on scooters, because otherwise, you cannot see them. If a person gets onto a scooter at night wearing dark clothing, you will not see him or her.
Another point I wish to raise is the debate around helmets, clogad. It is not compulsory for cyclists to wear a helmet. In this day and age, that is mad. It should be compulsory for anybody who is renting out bikes in the city. The same goes for the users of e-scooters. It is for the safety of the users; it is not for the safety of anybody else. If you get hit by a person wearing a helmet, it is going to be sore for you, but it is for their safety if they hit the road. I say that as somebody who has been in many an accident as a cyclist over the years. I have cycled all my life and have had many a scrape with the roads and paths in those years. I have survived to tell the tale where others have not, and that is the problem. Others have fallen off their bikes and have been left severely brain damaged or worse. We enforced the wearing of helmets on motorbikes many moons ago. I remember the days when they were not there. We also introduced the compulsory wearing of helmets in hurling. You would not go onto a hurling pitch now without wearing a helmet. I remember when that was introduced, people complained that we were a nanny State. There are many people out there who are glad that they had the helmet on when they were playing hurling. The same is true of those riding motorbikes. I appeal to the joint committee and the Minister of State, when they are looking at the legislation, to seek to ensure that it forms part of the package of rolling this legislation out fully.
I note that the last speaker, Deputy O'Donnell, mentioned spaces in the city centre, or wherever, to park bicycles and the like. If you go to Amsterdam, you will see huge bike parks. The bikes are parked right on top of each other. It is great to see. If you go into Dublin city centre, you will see very few bikes because they are robbed all the time, because they are not secure. That is one of the problems. They are not secure and we do not have the Garda numbers, the wherewithal or even sometimes the interest to chase up the theft of bikes. An Garda Síochána has done great work in recovering some bikes, but others just seem to disappear into thin air. There need to be more secure spaces to park bikes. There are bike lockers, or the like, in some parts of the city. Perhaps we should encourage car parks - which are half empty in many cases, and hopefully will be empty, as we are trying to discourage people from coming into the city centre with cars - to introduce bike lockers or lockers for e-scooters. Perhaps they could make a few bob in the process, but I would not necessarily encourage that The provision of such lockers would reassure people that their bike or scooter will be somewhere safe and will be dry when they come back to collect it, perhaps if it has been raining all day.
There is much to be welcomed in this Bill. There are other things that need to be said as well. People may have already done it, but every year, An Garda Síochána issues a call to parents not to buy scramblers or quad bikes for their children.
At least the Bill will make it an offence to sell them to those aged under 16 which I welcome. I appeal again to parents not to buy them, given the torture that communities have experienced year in and year out. They are not suitable for built-up local authority and other housing estates in the city. I also appeal to An Garda Síochána to take action a lot quicker where a nuisance or danger is being created by these quads and scramblers.
There is another missed opportunity in the Bill. This is an issue I and colleagues have raised with a number of Ministers with responsibility for transport. It is a pity it is not being addressed given the scope of the Bill. This is the issue of horse-drawn carriages and the fact there is no proper licensing system. The legislation that covers them is the Dublin Carriage Act 1853. To this day, people can be fined one penny or one shilling or face hard labour. This is the extent of it. Dublin is peculiar in this because it is the only area affected by the Act. This means other local authorities can regulate but the local authority in Dublin cannot do so. The council has asked, as have councillors from all parties, for the Minister to repeal it and put in place legislation that would deal with the carrying of passengers on horse-drawn vehicles which, in many cases, are not suitable and sometimes collapse. There is no insurance on many of them. There is no horse welfare associated with them. In this city we have seen horses that are in danger because they are carrying a load and they are not fit for it. It is tantamount to horse cruelty in these instances. There is a whole layer in this. I appeal to the committee to see whether there is a way to ensure this is slotted in because it deals with road users.
Another issue is the roads themselves, given the dangerous state of a lot of them, especially on parts that are often left to one side for bicycle lanes. Sometimes they are the areas that get the most works, such as sewerage works, carried out on them. They are often left in a bad state afterwards. This is also the case with some of the paths that we walk on in this city and other cities.
I have raised the issue with the Minister of other road users, such as the blood bike service. I have asked for it to get an exemption from road tax or a rebate. They are motor cycles in the main that ferry blood, blood samples and breastmilk from, for example, the Irish Blood Transfusion Service to hospitals. It is regarded by all of the other emergency services as an emergency service. It would not be a huge imposition that they be given a rebate or that they be allowed to use bus lanes. There are very few of them and it would not interfere with other users of the bus lanes
The next major point I want to make is with regard to the chaos in driving test centres. Last night, I had communication from somebody whose daughter did her driving test. Her permit was six days out of date but the inspector allowed her to go out and do the test. Then, when she went to get her licence, even though she had been told it was grand, she was then told she would have to resit the test. There is absolute chaos about how some of the testers are using the system. I do not know whether they have a quota that they must achieve each day with regard to who sits and who does not. There needs to be a change and a tightening up. There also needs to be a speeding up to address the huge backlog.
I hope the Bill does not get delayed on Committee Stage, although I agree with Deputy O'Donnell that there is a need for amendments to tighten it up. I hope we can work quickly because people in this city in particular are crying out for legislation to allow e-scooters on the roads so that young people can buy them without the fear they would be confiscated by An Garda Síochána, as has happened to a number of people who have contacted me over the years. This is because of the confusion as to whether or not they are allowed on the roads and whether people have to wear a helmet or have insurance. Some young people have suffered the consequences of a lacuna in the law on these issues. There is also a lacuna in the law with regard to horse and carriage legislation.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. Sinn Féin will table amendments to certain aspects of it. When it comes to the dangerous and antisocial use of scramblers and quads it is good to see the Government is taking Sinn Féin's lead and making provision for something that is a scourge on many communities. On this side of the House we have been told for a long time it could not be done but here we are and it is welcome. It has been a Damascene conversion but welcome all the same. What has been proposed is very much like the legislation Sinn Féin has tabled in the past. We will take progress when and where we get it.
It is sickening to think that for the sake of a rider's adrenaline rush other people can be robbed of their lives or suffer serious injuries from scramblers and quads. It is welcome to see the Garda getting the power it needs to tackle this reckless behaviour that has the capacity to inflict such devastating and life-changing injuries not only on individuals but, by extension, their entire families. The communities affected will breathe a collective sigh of relief that at least the Garda will be able to act. The important next step is that the Garda starts to implement the authority it has been given as soon as possible. Essential to this is having the resources, finance and personnel to move as efficiently and effectively as it should want. My party is seeking a meeting with Garda management to make sure it has the resources needed so the implementation can and will be done.
The provision in the Bill for e-bikes and e-scooters is equally critical. I have had quite a lot of contact from constituents on the use of e-scooters, particularly during the lockdown when people were keen to get in their daily walk. There are a lot of shared spaces where paths have become cycle lanes. Serious concerns have been raised about regulation, particularly by older citizens and citizens with visual impairment and disabilities.
The Bill also addresses the often dire traffic situation on the M50 with variable speeds, and this is welcome. Many of my constituents in north Kildare are veterans of the M50 and they could tell many a tale of woe, particularly during the Covid lockdowns. Motorists are under huge pressure in the commute, and the situation that has developed with delays and hold-ups is bad not only for emissions but also for noise pollution, air pollution and our mental and physical health. The variable speed changes will work, as anybody knows who has been on a motorway and overtaken by some eejit only to find themselves behind that person again as the traffic slows down. Variable speed limits will help to reduce build up on the M50.
As COP26 takes place in Glasgow, it would be remiss of me not to address the changes necessary in how we travel. We need a radical and quick change in our approach to transport in all communities, particularly rural communities. We need access to clean, green, high-quality, reliable and cheap public transport necessary in the 21st century as we face the climate crisis and meet our climate commitments. Electric vehicles are to be welcomed. They certainly have a role to play but they are not a panacea and they cannot be presented as such. The bottom line is that we need vastly fewer vehicles on our roads and vastly more people on public transport. The 20th century was the age of the individual in travel. The car provided privacy and independence.
Given the existential challenge that we face, travel in the 21st century must be about society and the public good. This means that we are going to have to perhaps relinquish some of our personal choices for a better societal outcome. This might involve taking a train at 3 p.m. as opposed to getting into the car at 2.45 p.m. just because we can. This is what we have to address now. We also have to address how time-poor we are. The reason so many of us use our cars instead of public transport is we are always in a hurry. As a society, we have to address how time-poor we are and how we always seem to be in a hurry on to the next thing while working so hard, and where commuting takes up so much time.
The change that is needed will involve all of us but its benefits will also be for all of us. I welcome this Stage of the Bill.
An offence by a person in authority and an offence against a relevant person by a person in authority are contained in Part 2 and attract a disqualification for a specified period. However, a sexual act with a protected person is not contained in Part 2 so there is no disqualification, to be very clear, before the Minister of State takes to her feet.
I wish to first put on record my thanks to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for her kind remarks earlier in the debate on the Farrelly commission of investigation, which I appreciate very much.
The Bill before us deals with a number of different road traffic issues. There is a commentary in the explanatory memorandum on the changes in our use of vehicles of one kind or another and the use of public transport. I have to make a case for rural Ireland generally where there is no transport system and where people cannot get about efficiently within their own counties or region. That has to be changed and it will take considerable funding, but rural Ireland cannot be left out in respect of the changes that are coming because of climate change and for other reasons.
All legislation is informed by our interaction with constituents and by our own experiences. Some of those experiences relate to the courts, An Garda, insurance companies generally and so on. The Second Stage debate is an ideal time to discuss some of the issues and the legislation, and to ask for some joined-up thinking on it. A former Member of this House said to me that there is no point in all of us passing this legislation and putting the laws in place if we do not have sufficient manpower and capacity to deal with the policing of those laws. I believe firmly in that. There has to be a connection between this legislation, the experiences that some have had in road traffic accidents and the courts, and indeed, the insurance companies. The Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach regularly deals with insurance companies and attempts in every way possible to bring down the premiums for motorists.
I would point as an example of complete failure of the system to the case of Shane O’Farrell, which has often been raised in this House and has all to do with a traffic accident, a hit and run, murder, one might call it, on the roadside and the devastation for a family. In fact, the previous Dáil decided that there should be a public inquiry into that case. When one examines the reasons for a broad well-meaning public inquiry, it has to do with how the courts function. If someone appears in court - and it is ten years since Shane O’Farrell’s death - is convicted of a crime and if that person is to be jailed, then one would expect that the law would ensure that person goes to jail for that particular crime. It is very difficult to understand in Shane O’Farrell’s case how the system dealt with numerous convictions in the courts against a man who eventually killed Shane on the roadside. He should have been in jail. There was a failure of the courts and of An Garda to implement the decision of the court. If this legislation is to change anything, it needs to interlink with the courts system to ensure that the likes of that oversight or error does not happen again.
Likewise, there needs to be a connection between North and South because, referring to Shane O’Farrell’s case, the conviction of the man involved related to numerous offences in 2011 in the Border area. We need to connect with the authorities in Northern Ireland to ensure that in future, should these road offences be committed, there is a flow of information between North and South. My understanding is that on one occasion, the man who killed Shane O’Farrell was to report to his local Garda station when, in fact, he was in jail in Northern Ireland. The questions have to be asked in the context of legislation: how did that happen and why? Will this legislation or any amendment that might be required to it be able to deal with that and with the relationship with the police Northern Ireland?
Likewise Part 4 introduces amendments relating to information about insurance. This goes back to the policing of the legislation. In Shane O’Farrell’s case, this man was stopped on the roadside, he was known to have had the various convictions, there was a question mark over the condition of the vehicle he was driving and whether it was roadworthy, tax and insurance, yet the vehicle was not taken from him, was not impounded and it seems as if there was no consequences in that regard. This Bill needs to address that by ensuring there will be consequences and that An Garda are empowered, or if they need to be further empowered, to take these types of vehicles and to impound them. I do not understand why that happened.
The other issue is the national car test certificate, as it was referred to. There was no certificate. We can have all of the laws and the indicators on the windscreen as to tax, insurance and so on, but if these matters are not policed, then we will not get the results that we want. If motorists are found by An Garda to have broken the law, we need to ensure that the Courts Service puts in place the proper tracking system so that the crime can be picked up and the person who might be sentenced goes to jail and is taken off the road to prevent the type of accidents that killed Shane O’Farrell.
I am using that case because so many things went wrong on the part of the State in it, even in the Director of Public Prosecution's, DPP's, office.
This legislation should look at how, for example, that man who killed Shane O’Farrell got the type of legal representation that he received. How did that man get the type of favourable consideration in the court that he got-----
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle very much.
That aspect needs to be examined to see if we can strengthen the court system in the context of legislation to ensure this does not happen again.
I wish to discuss another example of the poor implementation of legislation in the context of another accident where the vehicle was impounded. We need to examine what happens to a vehicle that is impounded, how gardaí carry out their assessment of such a vehicle and how available the report is to the other party who might have been involved in the accident. My experience has been that people who seek reports from the gardaí may as well be writing to Santa Claus because they are not going to get a direct written reply. It is extremely difficult to extract the reports on road accidents from gardaí, especially when an insurance case is involved.
Information on the length of time for which a vehicle was impounded, and on where the vehicle might have gone after that, should be available because there could be evidence in terms of a case being taken. This needs to be examined, as well as the availability of information to the interested parties, so that the information is forthcoming without any hassle when it is asked for. I do not think that puts pressure on anyone because the reports should be made available.
We need to look at the vehicles coming from Northern Ireland to southern Ireland and have the same standard of operation in Northern Ireland as we have here so that there is an expectation that tax, insurance, vehicle numbers, roadworthiness certificates and all of the rest are in place. In the case of one accident, a truck came from Northern Ireland where an accident had occurred. The truck was from the North and had no tax, insurance or NCT. Gardaí were to examine the truck after the accident, but lo and behold there was no report. The truck was brought back to Northern Ireland.
In company law, when people are working for a company as a subcontractor there is an obligation on the person offering the contract to ensure the subcontractor has all of the appropriate tax and insurance available, be it employers, public liability or vehicle insurance. When an accident happens, however, there is a reluctance to pursue the person offering the contract if the subcontractor has no tax or insurance, etc. There needs to be a direct connection between that part of company law and road traffic law.
Responsibility must be taken by someone where a company is involved in a contract and subcontractor arrangement. Not enough is being made of the responsibility of the main contractor. Some of the mission statements of contractors have grand language and phrases to describe their responsibility, how they respond, what they demand of their employees, the company, its health and safety record and what it does with subcontractors. However, the implementation of such mission statements falls far short of what the statement describes. There is a need in company law governing that area to point out and strengthen the responsibility of a contractor when engaging a subcontractor. That is essential.
In respect of premiums, in cases involving road traffic accidents insurance companies fight with each other all of the time. Solicitors, barristers and senior counsel are all brought into the equation. A big company often beats down the individual and pushes him or her off the pitch, and there is a large settlement or no settlement. If there is no settlement, that means justice could not have been done because the might, power and money of the corporate has defeated the individual. The legislation must reflect the rights of the individual and reflect or give a pathway to an individual who is trying to defend himself or herself against a large company that is prepared to put obstacles in the way and string a case out. In the end, the person is defeated not in court but by being bullied off the pitch.
That is an experience I have had with a constituent. I have discussed it with him. It is unusual to see the person who was not responsible for having insurance being the one that carries the cost in court arising from a court case when, in fact, it is the company that employed the person that should have carried the cost. The courts can overlook the detail of some of the cases before them in the rush to get sorted or can be impressed by a lawyered-out company that is taking a case against an individual.
I would like to see a greater connection between company law, companies' responsibility for insuring their vehicles and the listing of insurance. It has been suggested during this debate that there should be a motor insurance bureau in Ireland. I fully support that. I believe every effort should be made not just to commence it from today, but to examine how we could bring some historical perspective to that type of list and build it up properly over the years. Far too often, one sees that in accidents that those with money can spend it on their legal teams and get through the courts without any great fine at the end of it. That is not justice, and it involves ignoring, bypassing and using the law to one's benefit.
I examined some of the statistics around Shane O'Farrell's case. The person involved never served a six-month sentence. Relating to this, some 31,422 crimes were committed by those on bail. That equated to 604 per week, a figure which increased by 70% the following year. If legislation is being properly policed and managed through the courts, that type of statistic should not exist.
The M50 is mentioned in the Bill. I would like the motorway from Dublin to Kilkenny, the road I use, to benefit from similar signage mentioned in the Bill. I have seen it used and it is very effective. When one leaves Dublin city centre to get onto the motorway, the different speed limits are very confusing. One can pass very easily from a speed limit of 100 km/h to 80 km/h. One is watching the traffic and everything else. There needs to be a review of the speed limits along that route.
In some of the areas where one can pull in to rest, park or whatever, there should be some basic facilities. That is not part of the Bill.
The areas for pulling in and resting for trucks and cars are in place. I am not referring to any elaborate facilities, but there should be basic facilities.