Seanad debates

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

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


5:05 pm

Photo of Paschal DonohoePaschal Donohoe (Dublin Central, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

In regard to the point raised by Senator Thomas Byrne on commencement notices, it is certainly something I and my Department have learned in regard to the status of such notices. On the point put to me regarding the legislation being rushed, I am seeking to have it passed in an afternoon and evening. I appreciate the fact that I am allowed to bring it into the House at this stage. I am struck by the last piece of road traffic legislation, the 2014 Act, which went through a huge amount of scrutiny and was debated extensively in the House, in the Committee and in the Dáil. While responsibility rests with me as Minister - I am not seeking to divert that in any way - it was the basis of commencement notices. In fairness, I could not expect any Senator, no matter how aware he or she is of road safety legislation, to know the commencement status of every section in the Bill. That is a lesson that I and my Department have learned from this debate. I have already said what we are doing in that regard.

Senator Thomas Byrne raised a point in regard to the amendment which I will discuss on Committee Stage when we go through each part of the Bill. The sole purpose for bringing this to the House is to make clear that the constitutional rights of any person will not be infringed in any way by the passage of the Bill. I will discuss that issue on Report Stage.

Senator Colm Burke made a point in regard to emergency legislation which I have touched on. Senator Kathryn Reilly mentioned trends and penalty points in regard to collisions and noted the position this year versus a year ago which shows an increase, particularly after the events of recent days. We will be introducing a further change in terms of the sanction regime on our roads when we bring in greater facilities for drug testing next year in respect of the devices that will allow that to happen. When that is done, there will be an amount of road safety legislation in place and at that point we will have to consider other issues, such as what can be done with vehicles, what else can be done and needs to be done in respect of driver awareness, the education of drivers and so on. Given the number of changes made to the penalty points system, there are a large number of specified offences that carry penalty points or for which other consequences are available. We will need to look at other areas for next year.

I have touched on the point in regard to the resourcing of the Garda in the comment I made to Senator Denis O'Donovan. The work of the Road Safety Authority in terms of enforcement and advertising is crucial. It is an independent body of my Department, to which I was pleased to appoint Ms Liz O'Donnell as chairperson. She is an independent and vigorous chair of that organisation. An important change that will take place in that body is that it will soon be self-financing. Given that, it will have the ability to make its own independent choices in terms of the issues it seeks to raise and the advertising campaigns it wants to commence. I commend its present advertising campaign for the Christmas period and particularly the impact the consumption of drugs can have on one's ability to drive.

I turn to the most substantive point Senators have raised, which is the issue of retrospection. The issue was raised by Senators O'Donovan, Burke and Byrne in respect of their concerns in this area. In addressing these concerns I wish to make two points that the Senators may wish to consider as we go into Committee Stage that have been crucial in my taking this course of action. I want to take a step back and explain the process overall when one gets penalty points. When an offence is committed, the Garda Síochána will stop a person and decide that, for example, penalty points is the right sanction and will choose to go down the fixed charge notice route. To be clear, we are not talking about offences that go to court but which incur fixed charge notices. The Garda will communicate that to the individual who will then be asked by the Garda Síochána if they accept the penalty points on their licence. The person will indicate their acceptance of the penalty points and-or payment of the fine. The Garda Síochána will then notify the national driver vehicle licence database and it is at that point the penalty points are applied to the licence. It is at that stage of the process that we have this issue. We are not talking about creating a new offence retrospectively, but when the person has admitted the offence, we are talking about the right-footing, as it were, for the application of the penalty points. We are not seeking to create a new offence but to deal with the implementation of an existing offence for which the driver has accepted liability. That is why this course of action and this Bill is being pursued.

We are referring to a sanction that is civil in nature. Unless they are appealed to the courts, they are not a criminal matter.

The two reasons that led to me bringing this Bill forward are the fact that we are dealing with the administration of an offence as opposed to the creation of an offence and the fact that the offence is civil in nature. These are among the points made to me in the advice I received from the Attorney General, but it is up to me to decide how to act on that advice. The two points that led to me bringing the Bill forward concern the application of the points and the fact that the application occurs in regard to a civil offence. I have done my best to respond to the different points that Senators have raised. Obviously, if Senators have more detailed points to put to me on Committee Stage, I will do my best to respond to them.


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