Tuesday, 18 May 2021
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber and thank him for taking this very important debate. It is important to recognise that the last year has been incredibly difficult for many people who have been out of work for the last number of months. I wish everyone who went back to work on Monday well. There have been an awful lot of challenges in so many sectors, from health to employment, and in every facet of society.As we reopen the country, get people back to work and restore some normality to society, we face a number of challenges, one of which relates to driving tests and theory tests. A major backlog has built up through no one's fault and it is important that be stated. It is simply a matter of fact. We are where we are on this, but it needs to be rectified. I know the Minister of State is making a great effort to speed up the clearing of the backlog even with respect to online theory tests. I would be interested to hear his contribution on that.
We are in a difficult position in that many people want to return to work but they do not have the capacity to drive because they have done their driving test or their theory test. With the backlog, the waiting time for a driving test is approximately 25 weeks. I have spoken to several people who have contacted my constituency office who were either offered jobs or are seeking to take up jobs. They are young people, in particular, who are either in college or starting apprenticeships who want to start working but cannot because they do not have a driving test. I spoke to a lady whose son had his first driving lesson last Saturday and will have to wait three weeks for his next lesson due to the demand. He had planned to start a job this summer as an essential worker but will not be able to do so as the lessons are too spaced out and it will be a number of months before he will have completed all 12 lessons. He was also due to sit his test recently but the test centre cancelled it.
Some 38% of people on the waiting lists are aged between 21 and 30, which is further impacting on their employment opportunities. It is particularly impacting in rural areas. I think of my own area especially at this time of the year when agriculture is the beating heart of the economy in rural Tipperary. Many people would be involved in harvesting and driving tractors carrying grain all over the rural countryside, but they cannot do that if they do not have their driving test. When I spoke to the lady I mentioned, it was suggested that an interim measure might be put in place for learner drivers on a provisional licence, perhaps some leeway by the Garda for those who have had their provisional licence for a certain period and have good driving experience. If those people have been offered a job and are trying to work it is not feasible for their parents to transport them to and from work. We need to give some leeway for the next number of months to provide for those people.
The key issue is to attack the backlog as quickly as possible. There are different challenges in different areas but in rural Ireland, and the Minister of State will know this, the majority of people need to drive to get to work. We do not have the flexibility of having a fantastic public transport system. The quicker this can be done, the better. I know the Minister of State is taking the issue very seriously. Addressing it would have a major impact on reopening the country and getting people back to work. I look forward to the Minister of State’s response.