Seanad debates

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Road Traffic (No. 2) Bill 2014: Second Stage


4:15 pm

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

In 2002 my party introduced the notion of penalty points which by and large have worked well to make our roads safer.

I have a few issues with the Bill, in particular the three penalty points for a driver taking a car on the road without completion of an NCT. I will give a practical example, which I raised on the Order of Business here last week or the previous week. My old jalopy of a car is due for NCT on 1 March. When I applied on 1 December, three months ahead, I was told it would be mid to late March before I had any hope of getting a date for an NCT. Under this legislation am I, living in west County Cork and the most remote Senator from this House, supposed to park up my vehicle and wait three weeks?

I know of one young fellow, whose father came to me three weeks ago, and he has been waiting five months for an NCT. There seems to be no moratorium for someone who has genuinely applied. The first thing to be fixed is that no person should have to wait three months for an NCT, which is ridiculous. As a consequence of this legislation, from 1 March I would be forced to either park up my vehicle or wait for three weeks during which I could not go to Dublin to attend the Seanad or go elsewhere. That practical difficulty must be overcome.

The Minister may not revert to this matter; I actually raised it a week or two ago. However, there should be some excuse. I may have to appear before a District Court judge and point out that I applied three months earlier for a NCT but was yet to get an appointment. It is not my fault, but the fault of the system that is either overloaded or it is different in different areas. If that is the case I have serious concerns over the Bill. Those are just two practical cases of a young fellow who was waiting for five months. Thankfully the law was not in place at the time and he continued driving - he had to do so given that he was 23 or 24 miles from his place of work - but it was a concern to him and nobody wants to drive a vehicle without NCT.

I know the Minister has contacted the Attorney General and received advice on the retrospective nature of this Bill. From my days as a young law student, I have always had a deep concern where any legislation is retrospective. I was trained to think in the Aula Maxima of University College Cork that retrospection does not rest lightly with our Constitution or the courts and is to be avoided if at all possible. I know the Minster has a job to do and I do not wish to be critical of him personally. Nevertheless, I have deep concerns about this, and my colleague, Senator Byrne, may elaborate on the issue. We also have concerns about the amendment but rather than repeating ourselves, Senator Byrne will concentrate on the inherent flaw of the amendment as put before us.

When we consider the extra penalty point offences, we might all be worried. By and large, the system works well, and it is not that I am critical of it. One must also reflect on the strong assertions of the former chairman of the Road Safety Authority when he indicated there is a lack of resources contributing to a problem. Two years ago saw the fewest number of road traffic deaths and although nobody likes to see it, last year saw an increase and this year it looks like the figure will be up again. If there is a lack of resources in introducing penalty point offences relating to the national car test or speeding, there could be a serious flaw in the system. I am not sure how the Minister can respond to this but it would be remiss of me not to bring it to his attention.

Another issue relating to the NCT was brought to my attention by a public representative from the west. A lady sold her clapped-out car for scrap and got €450 for it. She ended up in court in Cork with a serious number of charges relating to parking offences around Cork city, although she never even thought the car could get to Cork. The car had been towed away. Although it is not directly related to this legislation, there is a duty imposed on a person selling a car to go to a local authority and get the ownership certificate transferred and so on. Perhaps the Minister and his departmental officials can reflect on this with respect to the NCT. The vehicle was towed away as scrap but two or three weeks later, these non-national people had got the car going. They took it to Cork and parked it wherever they liked. I am thankful that the judge in this case, when the facts were outlined to him, struck out the summons, but she could have been facing €800 in fines. The woman sold the car for parts or scrap but if we pursue the issue to its end, she could be seen to have allowed a vehicle to be driven on the road without a valid NCT as she was technically the legal owner. That is something that also concerns me.

We support the thrust of what the Minister is trying to do but we cannot ignore the issue. I respect the Attorney General but in the past that office has made mistakes. When doctors differ, patients die, but with the Attorney General and lawyers, as I was told once, if they are paid enough and one asks the right questions, one will get the desired answer. I am not clear that we can overcome this issue of legislation being retrospective. For the past few months, what is done has been done. One could say that from 1 January the legislation would take effect and we might have to ignore the lacuna. We must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater and I do not want to come in here completely opposed to the legislation, although I have deep reservations about it. I have had them from day one. I am touching on a few points and my colleague, Senator Byrne, might expand concerns about it as well, particularly the amendment which the Minister proposes. It is a constitutionally dangerous process and it is flawed. We might end up opposing the Minister's amendment and voting for the Bill.

It is difficult but we are not trying to be obstreperous, as that is not in my nature. Most of my colleagues know that when I have something to say, I say it, and if I have deep concerns, it would be wrong of me to bury or ignore them. I welcome the Minister to the House. He is one of the new young Ministers who are doing very well and I wish him a peaceful and good Christmas and new year. I hope we will see safe driving for all of us. It is important that we highlight and promulgate our concerns.


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