Tuesday, 23 May 2006
Road Safety Authority Bill 2004: Committee Stage.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 5, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:
""Act of 2002" means the Road Traffic Act 2002;".
Amendments Nos. 1 and 18 are technical amendments and I would like to hear the comments of the Minister of State.
The purpose of the Bill is to establish the road safety authority and to amend section 9 of the Road Traffic Act 2002, which relates specifically to the implementation of the European Commission convention on mutual recognition of driving disqualifications. I respectfully suggest to Senator Burke that it is not appropriate that this Bill be used as a means to amend the Road Traffic Acts which constitute a legal framework for the regulation of traffic vehicles and drivers.
The road traffic Bill is in the course of preparation, and the heads have been cleared by the Government some time ago. I know we will get the co-operation of all sides of the House, and I am anxious that we get the Bill through by the summer if at all possible because it will refer to speed cameras, mandatory breath testing and revision of licence procedures. I suppose I should not have gone into all that but I am just pointing out that would be a more appropriate time for Senator Burke to raise the issues he noted in his amendments. It is not appropriate to include them in this Bill.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 6, before section 4, to insert the following new section:
"4.âThe Minister shall, notwithstanding the status of the Authority, remain politically accountable to the Houses of the Oireachtas for all matters that fall under the aegis of the Authority, and nothing in this Act shall be used to diminish the level of that responsibility or his or her accountability in that regard.".
I feel strongly about this amendment, as does my colleague in the DÃ¡il, Deputy Olivia Mitchell. While I appreciate she put forward this amendment in the DÃ¡il, we should debate it fully in this House. I hope the Minister of State will accept it in the Seanad. It is about accountability. The road safety authority is not answerable to the Houses of the Oireachtas and it should be, through the Minister. That is a fundamental of our democracy. Otherwise we will have a road safety authority which will be like the HSE. Members of the Oireachtas and MEPs will write to the Minister, the Minister will wash his hands of matters, as will the Department, and the only avenue left open to the elected representative will be to write to the chairman of the road safety authority, Mr. Gay Byrne. One may get a reply in perhaps three or six months, and that is not good enough in our democracy today.
To have this amendment included would be a small price to pay. We have recently celebrated the 90th anniversary of the 1916 uprising, and the people involved died for democracy, for freedom. A fundamental part of it is that the people involved would be accountable to the Houses of the Oireachtas through the Minister. We feel strongly on this matter and urge the Minister of State to accept the amendment.
As the House knows, the chief executive officer of the road safety authority will be accountable to the DÃ¡il for its operation under sections 17(15) and (17) of the Bill. He or she will be accountable to committees of the Oireachtas with regard to performance of the authority's functions. Section 9 of the Bill gives power with regard to the general policy and the Minister will have responsibility for giving direction to the road safety authority in that regard. He or she would also retain overall responsibility for road safety. The Bill provides that the road safety authority may make recommendations for improving driving standards and requires the authority to submit road safety programmes to the Minister. In the circumstances, this amendment is unnecessary.
We are not setting a precedent in the Bill. This is a long-established practice. There are many other such authorities and boards which have autonomy but the Minister of the day in the lead Department has responsibility for policy. If the Minister of the day was given the same authority as the chief executive officer to deal with the micro-management of the authority, there would be criticism of that as well. This practice is nothing new and it conforms with the practice that has been in place over the years. Successive Governments have established authorities and boards of which the chief executive officers are accountable to the DÃ¡il and the committees of the DÃ¡il. In this case it is the transport committee.
The Minister will have power to give general policy direction to the road safety authority. There is a template in existence and, while it does not follow that we should have to adopt it, over the years such boards and authorities have served us well. They have been accountable to the relevant committees of the House. There is no reason to change that now. Road safety is a top priority for myself, the Minister and the Taoiseach. There is a committee of Ministers, chaired by the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, of which I am a member which deals with road safety policy. The other Ministers on the committee are the Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Health and Children, Education and Science and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The Department will have responsibility for policy direction and will work closely with the road safety authority.
It would be wrong to get involved in the micro-management of this body. We will ensure that recommendations on improving standards which will require the road safety authority to submit programmes to the Minister will be dealt with.
All parties and Oireachtas Members wish to promote and seek the highest standards in road safety. One life lost or one person injured on our roads is one too many. The Minister can say what he likes about this issue but, ultimately, when an Oireachtas Member asks him or his senior colleague a question about the road safety authority, he can wash his hands of it. That is the reality. The Minister has not given me any joy on this amendment, nor did he do so to my colleague in the Lower House. However, I appeal to him to accept it. It is a fair amendment. It is a fundamental part of our democracy that agencies should be answerable to the Houses of the Oireachtas through the Minister of the day.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 12 (Paul Bradford, Fergal Browne, Paddy Burke, Ulick Burke, Paul Coghlan, Noel Coonan, Maurice Cummins, Frank Feighan, Michael Finucane, Brian Hayes, Kathleen O'Meara, Joe O'Toole)
Against the motion: 23 (Peter Callanan, John Dardis, Geraldine Feeney, Liam Fitzgerald, Camillus Glynn, Brendan Kenneally, Tony Kett, Terry Leyden, Don Lydon, Marc MacSharry, Martin Mansergh, Paschal Mooney, Pat Moylan, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Mary O'Rourke, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Feargal Quinn, Eamon Scanlon, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators P. Burke and Cummins; Níl, Senators Dardis and Moylan.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 6, between lines 46 and 47, to insert the following new subsection:
"(5) Without prejudice to any other subsection in this section, the Authority shall further have amongst its responsibilities, the following:
(a) the registration of vehicles and retention of data pertaining to the ownership of vehicles;
(b) driver testing;
(c) registration of qualified driving instructors;
(d) maintenance of the national driver file;
(e) education of drivers, and promotion of educational and information campaigns for safe and responsible driving;
(f) maintenance, management and revision, as appropriate, of the Rules of the Road;
(g) maintenance of road signage and markings;
(h) policy advice to the Minister and certain other bodies as prescribed by this Act; and
(i) such other matters as the Minister may prescribe from time to time.".
Four different agencies, the Garda, the Departments of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Transport, and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, cover the matters listed in the amendment. The amendment proposes to bring the various matters under one umbrella organisation. It is a simple amendment to pull these strands together and make the road safety authority responsible for co-ordinating these issues. I hope the Minister of State will give serious consideration to the amendment.
While considering the amendment, which was also tabled in the DÃ¡il, one must remember that driver testing, the registration of qualified driving instructors, the education of drivers, the promotion of educational and information campaigns, and maintenance, management and revision of the Rules of the Road have been included in the Bill. As we speak, we are revising the Rules of the Road which will be ready prior to the enactment of this Bill.
Senator Paddy Burke is correct that the registration of vehicles is a matter for the Revenue Commissioners and responsibility for the maintenance of the national driver file rests with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Even if we were to decide it will be the responsibility of the road safety authority, it might improve administration but not road safety. I would have no difficulty in doing anything that might save a life but the national driver file is held by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and available to the Department of Transport, as it will be to the road safety authority.
From a practical point of view, how could a road safety authority without a budget for the maintenance of road signage and markings be responsible for it? Senator Paddy Burke was a member of a local authority and knows this is a matter for the National Roads Authority on national and secondary roads and for the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on regional and county roads. Changing that for the sake of it would not be practical.
We have access to the national drivers file. If we changed that, new software would be needed and other practical difficulties would arise. Of course, if the law suggested that the Department of Transport or the road safety authority did not have access to it, I would consider the amendment but that is not the case.
Section 4 provides for the transfer of functions to the road safety authority. It covers the driving test, the registration of driving instructors, driver education and the promotion of road safety. We have tried to ensure that the powers and functions being vested in the authority are not presented in the legislation as an exhaustive or prescriptive list. For that reason we are giving the authority responsibility for the production and maintenance of the Rules of the Road through the exercise of the general powers available to the Minister under the Bill.
Section 10 gives the Minister general powers to transfer functions to the Department. We may in the future decide that powers should be transferred and I would prefer to come back to the Houses then. These general powers exist in all legislation. The Senator is serious about improving road safety but his amendment is covered, the Department will have access to the national driver file. We should not fix what is not broken.
The Minister of State answered a number of points Senator Paddy Burke has raised, particularly on driver testing. If the Minister of State had lost the last vote or accepted the amendment, I might have been willing to go this way. I would like to hold the Minister responsible but because the last amendment was not accepted, we would have difficulty holding the Minister responsible for some of these areas.
I do not support the amendment, although I understand the worthy intention behind it, because I do not want the road safety authority to be distracted in any way from the focus on road safety. Some of the areas being added, such as the registration of vehicles and retention of data pertaining to the ownership of vehicles, are not road safety issues. Maintenance of the national driver file is not pertinent solely to road safety. The maintenance of road signage and markings is an important area of road safety but it should not be the responsibility of this body. The Senator's heart is in the right place but I would prefer to see the road safety authority focused on road safety and not distracted by anything else.
I appreciate what the Minister of State and Senator Quinn have said but this is about getting information. The road safety authority must have information because otherwise it will be at nothing. Driver testing is a major issue. The way it is being operated calls out for something to be done.
I was a member of a local authority for many years and all councillors can recite the dangerous stretches of road in their areas off the tops of their heads. Local authorities have a role but is there not a role for the road safety authority in areas where crashes, fatal or otherwise, are commonplace? Will the road safety authority get its information from the local authorities, depending on them to send data on bad stretches of road, or will it make recommendations on roads that should be improved or must we wait for more fatalities? The road safety authority should control such issues otherwise it will be at a disadvantage as it waits for information from local authority or the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
How will this process be drawn together? I know bad stretches of road throughout the country. The Bill does not specify how the road safety authority will have any input in road improvements.
Section 8 gives the road safety authority power to collect information and statistics. If we go into the detail of it, and Senator Quinn summed it up well, if the road safety authority is not responsible for road signage and markings, that is a matter for the National Roads Authority and the councils.
Legislation will come before the House before the summer recess to deal with speed cameras. It will not be a matter for the Department to decide where the cameras will be located or if they will be permanent, it will be a decision for the company and the Garda, which will have responsibility for enforcement. Hopefully, that will deal with the issue in the short term.
Of course, in the long term, we must aspire to remove all accident black spots, but that cannot be done immediately. We must live in the real world. In the short term, signs or cameras should be erected at such locations so that those driving on our roads, whether national primary, secondary, regional or county roads, know of the dangers. Signs are on our roads for a good reason, to alert drivers to the fact that certain stretches of road are dangerous.
I expect that the road safety authority will liaise with the local authorities in each county and the National Roads Authority, which has responsibility for primary and secondary national roads. I am not being political when I say that over the last nine years, the budget of the National Roads Authority has increased five-fold, from approximately â¬350 million to â¬1.5 billion. That is the level of funding being provided now. In County Donegal, for example, the National Roads Authority and the county council have employed a road safety engineer who will make proposals to the local authority and, if necessary, to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.
As public representatives, we are all familiar with the low-cost safety improvement works, for which funding is provided to the local authorities separately from their mainstream funding. Even though such works apply to county or regional roads, the National Roads Authority has an input in that process. Work is prioritised on the basis of the number of accidents on particular roads and the Garda SÃochÃ¡na is also involved in the process.
The National Roads Authority will work closely with the road safety authority. The chief executive of the NRA appeared before the Joint Committee on Transport, made a presentation and answered numerous questions raised by committee members. It is important that the response to road safety is cross-cutting, that the road safety authority listens to the local authorities and the National Roads Authority and vice versa.
The amendment proposes changes for the sake of change and would not be in the best interests of road safety. It is not necessary to give the authority the proposed additional powers. It has sufficient powers to deal with the issues.
The Minister must have been a formidable footballer in his time because he has side-stepped every question I posed. Members of the Joint Committee on Transport visited the state of Victoria in Australia. That state has a body in place which is not dissimilar to the proposed road safety authority. The Victorian authority pools information from across the various sectors that deal with road safety, makes recommendations and enforces them. It effectively calls the tune.
Fundamental to road safety is the maintenance of road signage and markings but the Minister has not explained how he sees the authority working in this regard. The road safety authority must be able to make some recommendations on such matters, but to whom? Will it make recommendations to the National Roads Authority, the local authorities, the Minister for Transport or to the Joint Committee on Transport? It will not be making recommendations to Members of the Oireachtas because, following the first vote this evening, we will not be able to hold anybody accountable.
I hope the road safety authority will not be a talking shop. It must be given teeth. It must be able to make recommendations and have a free hand in many areas. If the authority makes recommendations, it should be given funding to ensure that the required safety measures are put in place to deal with accident black spots and dangerous stretches of road. On what basis will the authority receive information to carry out such tasks?
The Minister for Transport gave an absolute assurance to the road safety authority at its inaugural meeting in the Department several weeks ago that it may work through the Department. If it has recommendations to make, it should make them. Recommendations should be made to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government regarding county and regional roads and to the National Roads Authority regarding primary roads, black spots and so forth. If the authority has recommendations to make to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government or the NRA, the Department of Transport will make the necessary representations. I am sure the road safety authority will make recommendations and I expect that briefings will be held with the relevant Departments or agencies.
The traffic sign manual, with which we are all familiar, will be the responsibility of the road safety authority. However, the various proposals in the Senator's amendment are unnecessary.
I support what the Minister of State is saying in this instance. In the past, the making of recommendations has not been strong enough. However, if the road safety authority, under its new chairman, makes a recommendation, the Department will ignore it at its peril. That is why I believe the choice of chairman was inspired. He is the type of person who will not brook any effort to ignore him. From that perspective, I hope Senator Paddy Burke understands why I am satisfied, in this instance, that his amendment is not necessary. I believe that recommendations will be very strong and will have power behind them. The Department will ignore them at its peril.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 7, before section 5, to insert the following new section:
"5.âThe Act of 2002 is amended by:
(a) inserting the following new subsection after subsection (3) in section 1:
"(4) Responsibility for the maintenance, operation and alteration of the licence record shall vest in the Road Safety Authority.",
(b) deleting section 2(2) and substituting the following:
"(2) Where a person is convicted of a penalty point offence, the number of penalty points specified in column (5) of the First Schedule opposite the mention of the offence in column (2) of that Schedule shall, subject to and in accordance with the provisions of this Actâ
(a) be endorsed on the entry relating to the person in respect of the offence,
(b) be entered into the record of the Garda PULSE system, and
(c) be endorsed upon that person's driving licence by an Garda SÃochÃ¡na.",
(c) inserting the following new subsection after subsection (5):
"(6) (a) Upon receipt of a notice under section 5 of this Act, a person shall, within 14 days, surrender his or her licence to a Member of an Garda SÃochÃ¡na at any Garda station, so that the penalty points under this section may be endorsed upon it.
(b) A person who fails to surrender his or her licence under this subsection shall be guilty of an offence, which shall be punishable by a fine not exceeding â¬80 for each offence until the said licence has been endorsed in accordance with subsection (a) of this section.
(d) deleting section 5 and substituting the following:
"5.â(1) When penalty points are endorsed on the entry of a person, the Minister shall, as soon as may be thereafter, cause a notice to be given or sent, by post or otherwise, to the person
(a) to the effect that the number of penalty points specified in the notice has been endorsed on the entry relating to the person followingâ
(i) the making by the person of a payment referred to in section 2(1), or
(ii) the conviction of the person of a penalty point offence,
and that, subject to section 3(2), they will remain on the entry for a period of 3 years beginning on the appropriate date, and
(b) specifying the total number of penalty points that, following the endorsement aforesaid, stand so endorsed and, if that number equals or exceeds 12, specifying that the person will be disqualified under section 3 for holding a licence for a period of 6 months, beginning on the appropriate date, and directing him or her to submit the licence held by him or her to the licensing authority that granted the licence not later than 14 days from that date.
(2) When a notice is given or sent to a person under subsection (1), the Minister shall cause
(a) particulars of the notice, including its date, to be entered on the entry relating to the person,
(b) a copy of that notice to be sent to an Garda SÃochÃ¡na, and
(c) particulars of the notice, including its date, to be entered on the Garda PULSE system.
(3) A person who does not comply with a direction under paragraph (b) of subsection (1) in a notice under that subsection shall be guilty of an offence.
(4) An Garda SÃochÃ¡na shallâ
(a) have jurisdiction to seek the surrender of a licence in the name of a person to whom a notice has been given or sent under subsection (1), in the same manner as if a court order had been issued for the forfeiture of that licence, or
(b) seek a court order for the forfeiture of that licence under this Act.".".
This amendment, inserting a new section, refers to the 2002 Act, which governs the penalty points system. A situation could arise whereby a person drives the length of the country, passes a number of speed cameras and unknowingly accrues 12 penalty points. Such a person must surrender his or her driving licence for endorsement, but to whom? The legislation does not clearly state to whom a driving licence should be surrendered. This amendment deals with that issue and places the responsibility on the Garda SÃochÃ¡na to ensure licences are surrendered and endorsed, as penalty points accrue. I ask the Minister of State to accept it.
The short reply to the Senator's question is the local authority. However, I wish to give a comprehensive response to the House regarding this amendment.
The development of the support system for the penalty points system involved significant and ongoing consultation with all agencies including the Garda SÃochÃ¡na, the Courts Service, the vehicle registration unit of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The system involved the establishment of data linkages between the national driver file and the relevant IT systems in the Garda SÃochÃ¡na and the Courts Service.
An intrinsic part of the system is that all endorsements of penalty points on a licence record and all disqualifications are recorded on the national driver file. As I said earlier on another amendment, while that information is with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, we have access to it, as will the road safety authority.
There were further allegations recently of loopholes in the penalty points system and some inaccurate statements reported in the media, although I am not accusing Senator Paddy Burke of that, about the operation of the system. I want to clarify the position on the penalty points disqualification procedure. A driver who accumulates 12 penalty points is disqualified for a period of six months under section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 2002. In accordance with section 5 of that Act, a driver is automatically notified by the vehicle registration unit of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, on behalf of the Department of Transport, that he or she has reached 12 penalty points and disqualification will be effective 28 days from the date of that notice.
As I said at the outset and to answer the question, the notification will also direct the person to surrender his or her licence to the appropriate licensing authority within 14 days of the date of the disqualification. It is an offence, therefore, under section 5 of the Road Traffic Act 2002, not to surrender a driving licence to a licensing authority. At the same time the disqualification notice is sent to the Garda Commissioner, the authorised officer of the relevant motor tax office and the Department of Transport. I understand details of such disqualifications are entered on the PULSE system. Upon expiry of the period allowed for the surrender of the driving licence, a notice is issued by the vehicle registration unit to the Garda informing it whether the licence has been surrendered.
It is an offence under section 38 of the Road Traffic Act 1961 to drive without a driving licence. To suggest, therefore, that a person can continue to drive while disqualified because the Garda does not know he or she is disqualified is not tenable given the notification procedure in place. Notification of payment of a fixed charge from the Garda SÃochÃ¡na or a conviction from the Courts Service in respect of any penalty points offence to the vehicle registration unit results in points being recorded on the licence record on the national driver file and the automatic notification of penalty points incurred and the total number of penalty points on a person's record.
To give the Senator some statistics, at 28 April, 36 drivers had already served a disqualification period of six months, 20 licence holders were disqualified and a further three drivers are in the process of being disqualified and will be required to surrender their licence to the relevant authority within 14 days of the disqualification becoming active.
I hope that clarifies the position for the Members present and the wider public. I would point out, however, that the Garda SÃochÃ¡na was never involved in either the surrender of driving licences or the endorsement of licences. Where a person is disqualified by the courts, driving licences were always surrendered through the courts to licensing authorities and the disqualification noted on the driver record. To suggest, therefore, that drivers go to Garda stations to have their licence endorsed is a fundamental departure from the current system of recording disqualifications and would place an intolerable and unnecessary administrative burden on the Garda. We all want to ensure that gardaÃ are on the beat and we should use the resources we have rather than have them involved in further administrative duties. In the circumstances, and on the basis of the response I have given, I hope Senator Burke will consider withdrawing the amendment.
There is a doubt in my mind as to the best system. The current system is very involved and Senator Burke has put forward a proposal that is worthy of consideration, although I have the same concern about the road safety authority being encumbered with other details such as those outlined.
When will penalty points apply on an all-Ireland basis? Is there any talk of applying them on a European basis? Will the Minister consider taking into account at some point, if not in this Bill, the procedure in Finland, which is to relate the penalties to the income of the individual? A man who was caught speeding on his motorbike in Finland recently had a very high income and was fined â¬200,000 for that offence. It got such attention from the media the public will be aware that it is highly unlikely to take place again.
When a person who has accrued 12 or more penalty points is stopped by the Garda SÃochÃ¡na, does it show up on the PULSE system that he or she is disqualified? Will it indicate on the PULSE system that the person is in breach of the law or over the limit in terms of penalty points?
I agree with Senator Quinn's point on the harmonisation of the penalty points system, especially between North and South. The most immediate problem facing us is that the penalty points system here does not apply to drivers in Northern Ireland and vice versa. The Minister of State will be aware as I am, coming from a Border area, that Northern registered vehicles have no regard for the laws of the State or the Rules of the Road. The sooner the systems North and South are harmonised, the better.
I understand the current position is that if somebody incurs two penalty points he or she is notified by letter, accompanied by a photograph of the individual committing the offence, but the letter is not registered; it is sent by ordinary post. Those letters should be registered because in some cases the first the person has heard about having incurred two penalty points is when the garda arrives at the door with a summons to appear in court. Such people then automatically incur four penalty points when the case goes to the District Court. They did not receive the letter in the post but they had no way of proving that. The Garda, on the other hand, had no way of proving the letter was sent. Hundreds of cases are being dismissed in the District Court for that reason. It would be worthwhile examining that issue.
To answer Senator Burke's question, it will show up on the PULSE system. He will appreciate, however, that if a person who has ten points incurs an additional two points, the garda will not know that immediately because he or she will have to go back to the station and put it into the system. It will be recognised as soon as he or she puts it into the system but it does not mean that the person loses his or her licence on that day. There is a period of 28 days before the notice comes out and it is a number of days after that before the person loses his or her licence. The answer to the question is "Yes".
Senator Quinn's other question is one which has been raised on numerous occasions, namely, the issue of all-Ireland recognition. We are in discussions with the Northern authorities on introducing harmonisation. Ironically, there is no harmonisation between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Senator Wilson is correct that we recognise this, particularly in Border counties, and we are anxious to make progress.
A directive on the mutual recognition of fines is being considered in Europe. Senators are aware that at one of the last European meetings I attended, we made some progress on a European driving licence. It will not happen overnight, as it will have a lead-in period. It will be extremely helpful when that licence is in place. The 25 member states of the EU must decide what information should be held on the microchip. We are making progress but it will take a number of years. The most pertinent issue is what we can do regarding North and South. We recognise that and will try to make progress.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 7, before section 5, to insert the following new section:
"5.â(1) The Authority shall have a policy role inâ
(a) making general road safety policy recommendations to the Minister,
(b) advising the Minister on any review of speed limits,
(c) advising local authorities on general road safety policy,
(d) liaising between any itself and any one or more of the following bodies:
(i) an Garda SÃochÃ¡na;
(ii) the National Roads Authority;
(iii) local authorities and municipal authorities;
(iv) the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government;
(v) the Department of Transport; or
(vi) such other bodies as the Minister may prescribe from time to time.
(2) The Authority shall have consultative and advisory roles in any review or reform of road categories, or in terms of their route letter and number.".
The purpose of amendment No. 5 is to give a more defined policy role to the road safety authority. It is not clearly defined where the authority can give a policy recommendation to the Garda SÃochÃ¡na, the National Roads Authority, the Departments of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Transport or the Ministers with those responsibilities.
Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 are concerned with reviews and reports. They state that the road safety authority would publish an annual review, benchmark itself and monitor its successes or failures. Road safety issues must have some form of benchmarking. The annual report it will publish should include benchmarks. The authority should monitor itself.
I refer Senators to section 7 of the Bill, which provides a clear legislative basis to ensure the road safety authority has a lead role in the development of strategies and measures to advance our road safety agenda. The issue of road safety comes under the remit of various Departments and agencies. When one considers its extremely extensive remit, the road safety authority will be in a position to engage with all contributory bodies to develop and monitor the delivery of a comprehensive road safety programme. This also deals with an earlier question on liaison and co-ordination with other Departments. The authority will play a major role in the development of future road safety strategies and will submit this programme to the Minister.
It is envisaged that the programme will form the basis of the Government's road safety strategy in the future. I also envisage that the authority will compile reports which address policy recommendations across a range of road safety measures. The authority will also have a role in overseeing the implementation of the programme the Government will adopt on road safety strategies. It will report regularly to the Cabinet sub-committee which the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, chairs and which, as I stated earlier, I attend. The Taoiseach attended our last meeting and I expect he will attend meetings from time to time.
It is not wise to set a timeframe on road safety strategy in legislation. Policy initiatives contained in the strategy may require varying timeframes. Including an extremely prescriptive requirement on the determination of annual targets and reviews could potentially have a negative influence on the pursuit of strategic objectives, which, by their nature may need to be based on the delivery of measures over a longer timeframe.
The focus of the amendments proposed by Senator Paddy Burke essentially will be addressed by the thrust of the proposals contained in the Bill. There is no great difference between what the Senator proposes and what is incorporated and catered for in the Bill. It is not necessary to be too prescriptive on timeframes. A degree of flexibility is important. I have no difficulty with the principle of the suggestion. However, some flexibility is required and what is suggested in incorporated in the Bill.
I liked the element of Senator Paddy Burke's amendment No. 17 which states that no later than three months after the end of each calendar year the authority will report. The Bill provides a timeframe of six months. Will the Minister of State reconsider whether three months is better than six months? Unless matters have an urgency nothing happens. Three months at the end of the year gives the authority time to produce a report and lay it before the Houses. Speed is of the essence if we are to move on these issues.
The fact that six months is enshrined in the legislation is a major help. As we are all aware, in this House we see some annual reports coming in two years after the end of the year. Six months is adequate time. The Bill states the report will be made not later than six months after the end of the year. It is helpful that a timeframe is included. The history of some reporting bodies is not good.
As Senator Quinn stated, three months is a reasonable time within which to report. However, an annual report is not much good. The benchmarking I outlined should also be included. The road safety authority should monitor itself on its failures and successes. Hopefully, it will be successful. Surely the road safety authority should have a role to play in advising local authorities on speed limits.
The National Roads Authority is building a number of roads throughout the country. In some parts, two lane carriageways are built. However, in some countries, such as South Africa and Australia, great use is made of roads where two lanes go in one direction and one lane goes in the other. A couple of miles down the road, two lanes go the other way. Such a system gives the traffic in each direction a reasonable chance to pass out vehicles.
If the road safety authority recommends that a new stretch of road being built should be a two plus one traffic lane system for the most part, if it is perhaps 18 km or 20 km in length, should it advise the National Roads Authority, the local authority or the Minister? How does that process work? A report may come in six months afterwards, and as Senator Quinn has mentioned, this is a considerable length of time. In many cases, time is of the essence for planning purposes.
I hope the Minister of State will accept the three month period, as it is a reasonable amendment. There are sections which could be accepted on Report Stage.
The period could well be three or four months. It can be no later than six months, which is a major advance. We are all aware of reports coming before the House which could be some years afterwards. We must take into consideration the practicalities, as any reports will be comprehensive. I would prefer to have a report within a six-month period rather than pressurise the authority to report in a three month period. That is very sensible.
With regard to engagement, I stated that the authority would have a very extensive remit, and it would be in a position to engage with all of the contributory bodies, so it can monitor and develop a comprehensive road safety programme. There will be communication with others, such as the National Roads Authority. I appreciate the point made about the two plus one traffic lane systems. That is a new concept in this country which is being developed.
I have announced the commencement of a compulsory purchase order for a â¬90 million bypass in my own county and constituency for Ballybofey Stranorlar. It will be 15.5 km long and form part of the Atlantic corridor, and it will operate the two plus one traffic lane system. The concept is being developed. I am sure there will be views within the road safety authority, and it can, while engaging with other contributory bodies which I have described, make its views well known. I have no doubt that the two plus one traffic lane system will contribute positively, and I am sure the National Roads Authority will give such views serious consideration.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 7, before section 5, to insert the following new section:
"5.â(1) The Authority shall have responsibility for the management and standards of driver testing in Ireland.
(2) The Authority shall put such structures in place as it deems necessary to ensure that the standard of driving in Ireland is maintained and improved.
(3) The Authority may put such pre-conditions in place as it deems necessary, for candidates who wish to take the driving test. Such pre-conditions may include, but are not limited to, a requirement that candidates undergo a prescribed number of driving lessons before being allowed to sit the driving test.
(4) In carrying out its functions under subsection (2), the Authority shall review and update the driving test and driver theory test so thatâ
(a) each examination conforms to international best practice,
(b) the driver testing process reflects safe driving practices,
(c) each examination has regard to persons who
(i) are hearing impaired,
(ii) do not speak Irish or English as defined by the Official Languages Act 2003,
(iii) have literacy difficulties, or, in the case of the driver theory test, difficulty operating a computer, or
(iv) have a physical disability, and
(d) a detailed report of the results of test, including all of the following:
(i) whether the candidate passed or failed the test;
(ii) where he or she made errors;
(iii) what areas the candidate could improve;
(iv) in the case of a candidate who has passed, what further actions he or she must take to obtain a licence; and
(v) in the case of a candidate who has failed, how he or she can reapply for the test,
is made available to each candidate.
(5) On a regular basis, the Authority shall produce and update, a drivers' training manual, which shall contain-
(a) the Rules of the Road,
(b) advice on safe driving, and
(c) such other information as the Authority deems necessary,
and such drivers' training manual shall be subject to the provisions of section 10 of the Official Languages Act 2003."
There may be hope that the Minister of State might accept some of the ideas in amendments Nos. 6 or 7.
Much work must be done in the area of driver testing, the education of driving testers and the process of applying for the driving test. If a person sits and fails a driving test, for example, it should be the duty of the tester to point out to the individual the points on which the person failed and what was done incorrectly. I do not believe this is the case currently. It should be obligatory for the tester to point out the mistakes to the person who has gone through the motions of taking lessons, etc.
There should also be controls in place relating to education of testers. Currently, a person giving lessons can set up a business in the morning without even a car. I am not even sure if a driving licence is required, although I presume one would need it. It is a very loose arrangement, and the area should be considered. There should also be a provision for the Irish language.
This amendment covers the issue of physical disability and driver testers, among other things. We must do much work in this regard. The amendments speak for themselves. The Rules of the Road cannot be obtained in the Irish language. It should be printed in Irish and available for the people in the Gaeltacht or anybody who wants it in the Irish language.
There should be a register of driving testers. The amendment I have tabled covers that area, as well as the area of driving instructors. I would like to hear the Minister of State's views on some of those issues. There could be vast improvement in these areas, which would greatly improve the education of some of our drivers also.
In some schools and Youthreach training centres in Cavan, the driver theory test is a compulsory part of the curriculum. It should be compulsory in every second-level school and training institution in the country. It is the first step towards obtaining a driving licence in this country, and it is important to educate our young people in particular.
With regard to driving instructors, I welcome the Minister of State's statement on Second Stage that existing driving instructors would be allowed to continue operating until a register comes into existence. I take into account what Senator Paddy Burke said with regard to driving schools. It is wrong that any person can set up such a business at the moment, although I am not sure that person would do any business if he or she did not have a car. It is addressed in the Bill, and I welcome that the vast majority of good driving instructors will be allowed to continue operating until the new system comes into operation.
I support the amendments, and I will specifically refer to the driving test. If a person has passed or failed, and made errors, the tester should be in a position at that stage to inform the person being tested of the errors made, why the person has failed and what should be done in the future. This should all be part of the process. It is an issue which many people who have sat the test have raised with me on several occasions. The information should be made available.
We discussed the issue of road safety in the House, and the Minister of State was present. I agree with the sentiments expressed with regard to driver testing. There should be a register of all driving instructors, and the Bill is dealing with that issue. It is a very important part of the Bill and action should come about. It is a shame that anybody can set up a driving school. I know that is addressed in the Bill, which I welcome. I support the amendments proposed by Senator Paddy Burke.
I will deal with specific aspects of the Bill and will then respond to questions arising from amendments Nos. 6 and 7. Instructors are the subject of amendment No. 8.
The driver testing service operates under the provisions of section 33 of the Road Traffic Act 1961, and in accordance with regulations made under that Act. The driving test is also governed by EU directives which stipulate the manoeuvres to be tested, and is set down in regulations under section 42 of the Road Traffic Act 1961. As the regulatory and legislative framework of the driving testing service are contained in the Road Traffic Acts it would not be appropriate to include the amendments in this Bill. The road safety authority will be responsible for the operation of the driver testing service in accordance with the regulations and will also be responsible for the operation of the driver theory test service. Our intention is for the service level agreement, to be drawn up in accordance with section 26 of the Bill, to specify performance standards for the delivery of services by the road safety authority which will take account of the matters raised in the amendments proposed by Senator Paddy Burke.
Preconditions on candidates for driving tests would have to be set out in regulations and would require amendments to section 42 of the Act. I am considering tabling amendments to that section in the road traffic amendment Bill that it is hoped will be introduced in the DÃ¡il shortly. It would not be appropriate to do so in this Bill. As part of the operation of the driver testing service the road safety authority will be responsible for ensuring a uniform standard of driving test and that training is given to testers to ensure adequate standards. In light of the authority's general duty under section 6 of the Bill to promote better driving standards, the amendment is not necessary.
One would get the impression from the contribution of Senator Cummins that a person is simply told after a test that he or she has passed or failed but that is not the case. Maybe I misunderstand the Senator but a detailed report is made after each test, which is as it should be. The testers undergo a comprehensive training programme and disabilities are catered for in the test.
I am aware that Senator Burke is committed to the Irish language at leaving certificate but his party is not. This is not the time for a debate on that issue.
I move amendment No. 8:
In page 7, before section 5, to insert the following new section:
"5.â(1) The Authority shall, in the exercise of its functions as prescribed by section 4(1) of this Act, be responsible for setting training standards and ensuring quality control of driving instructors.
(2) Without prejudice to subsection (3) of this section, the Authority shall assume such functions in respect of driving instructors as are conferred on the Minister by, and in accordance with, the Road Traffic Acts 1961 to 2004.
(3) The Authority shall put in place such structures as it deems necessary to regulate driving instruction and driving schools, and shall maintain a register of those who are qualified to give certifiable driving lessons.
(4) Driving instructors shall be obliged to undergo regular quality control testing and retraining at such intervals as may be prescribed by the Authority.".
We have fully discussed amendment No. 8. There is a lot of room for improvement in the registration of driving instructors and something should be done urgently.
I held my response until the Senator moved amendment No. 8. I do not disagree with him but we are dealing with the issue. The authority will be designated an approved body to issue instruction certificates envisaged under section 18 of the Road Traffic Act 1968, as amended by section 19 of the Road Traffic Act 2002. In accordance with regulations made under these provisions, which will provide for the matters referred to in the proposed amendment, other than the regulation of driving schools and the retraining of instructors, section 4(1) states the road safety authority will have functions in respect of the registration of instructors which will be designated in regulations made under the Road Traffic Acts. The authority will be an approved body that can issue instruction certificates for the purpose of regulating driving instructors.
There is no power in the Road Traffic Acts to regulate driving schools. This should not be a matter for the road safety authority because it can be dealt with under company law. As I pointed out to Senator Wilson, I explained on Second Stage that there would be a short period for a derogation. If we were to introduce it immediately there would be no opportunity for learner drivers to take instruction. When this is in place it will not be a matter of instructors qualifying and being issued with a certificate. They will be check tested at regular intervals and, if found not to meet the required standard, will be removed from the register. Instructors will have to take appropriate steps to bring the quality of their instruction up the required standard. The principle of what Senator Burke proposes in amendment No. 8 is enshrined in the Bill, apart from the regulation of driving schools which is dealt with under company law and other Acts.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 7, before section 5, to insert the following new section:
"5.â(1) On the establishment day, the Authority shall assume all responsibility for driver licensing, including, but not limited to:
(a) issuing and re-issuing of licences, including duplicate and replacement licences and requests for changes of address;
(b) imposition of endorsements and penalty points;
(c) revocation of licences; and
(d) shape, design, ergonomics and colour of licences.
(2) As soon as is practicable after the establishment day, the Authority shall move to introduce a physical driving licence format:
(a) that is practicable;
(b) that is more easily portable;
(c) that is in line with international best practice; and
(d) which retains driver information electronically.
(3) The Authority shall have jurisdiction to modify and/or vary restrictions on categories of licence holder, whether provisional or otherwise.".
The Minister of State should seriously consider this amendment. It would allow the creation of a credit card-type driving licence. The road safety authority would be responsible for the co-ordination of the driving licence. The local authorities would co-ordinate the application form. The amendment provides for the introduction of credit card-type licences, a measure advocated by the previous Minister for Transport. This type of licence is required to give the road safety authority teeth as electronic licences will hold all relevant information on drivers.
The Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, recently announced his intention to introduce a zero alcohol limit for new drivers. How would one record information on those who broke such a limit, if not on a credit card-type driving licence? An electronic licence would record all relevant information about the holder, including whether he or she has incurred penalty points, has been disqualified from driving certain vehicles, holds a provisional, full or HGV licence and so forth. Such a system should be introduced immediately and responsibility for its operation should be vested in the road safety authority which must be able to impose penalties on drivers. An electronic driving licence is the best method of doing this.
The code of legislation which governs the driving licence system is contained in Part 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1961, as amended by subsequent Road Traffic Acts and regulations made thereunder. Under this code, licensing authorities operating in their functional areas process applications for licences and issue licences. They also keep records of endorsements and disqualifications in the national driver file which they hold jointly with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Information from this file will be available to the Department of Transport and the road safety authority. Changing the current position would create many practical difficulties and would not improve road safety, as the Government is anxious to do.
The driving licence is also governed by EU directives on driving licences. These specify the format of a driving licence and the content of the driving and theory tests which must be successfully completed before a licence is granted. To transfer the licensing functions from the local authorities to the road safety authority would require a substantial redrafting of the driver licensing provision of the Road Traffic Acts.
The proposed amendment is outside the scope of the Bill and would have to be introduced as an amendment to the Road Traffic Acts. Even if I were disposed to make such a change, I would not be able to do so. Nevertheless, I have no difficulty with the Senator's proposal to introduce an electronic driving licence. I attended an informal meeting in Austria as part of a recent Council of Transport Ministers at which it was agreed in principle to introduce such a licence. I am told it will take 18 months to meet the specifications required to guarantee the security of the microchip that would be inserted in electronic driving licences. Therefore, even if we wished to introduce such a licence, a long lead-in time would be necessary.
EU Transport Ministers are anxious to introduce electronic driving licences as soon as possible but it will take some years. The principle of Senator Paddy Burke's amendment will be acted on, albeit not immediately given the period of 18 months required to meet specifications and guarantee security for electronic driving licences. Eventually, however, a standard driving licence will be introduced throughout the European Union.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 10 (James Bannon, Paddy Burke, Ulick Burke, Noel Coonan, Maurice Cummins, Frank Feighan, Michael Finucane, Brian Hayes, Joe O'Toole, Feargal Quinn)
Against the motion: 25 (Michael Brennan, Peter Callanan, Margaret Cox, John Dardis, Geraldine Feeney, Liam Fitzgerald, Camillus Glynn, Brendan Kenneally, Tony Kett, Terry Leyden, Don Lydon, Marc MacSharry, Martin Mansergh, John Minihan, Paschal Mooney, Tom Morrissey, Pat Moylan, Labhrás Ó Murchú, Francis O'Brien, Ann Ormonde, Kieran Phelan, Eamon Scanlon, Jim Walsh, Mary White, Diarmuid Wilson)
Tellers: Tá, Senators P. Burke and Cummins; Níl, Senators Minihan and Moylan.
I move amendment No. 11:
In page 8, subsection (1), line 47, after "statistics" to insert "to international standards".
I move this amendment on behalf of Senator Henry who is unable to be here. She has done a lot of work on this amendment, which is worthy of consideration by the Minister of State. The amendment is a simple one which seeks to insert "to international standards" after the word "statistics" in line 47. It sounds too normal to be important and did not seem to me as if it would be very exciting.
When statistics are considered with what are they compared? They are not of interest unless they are compared with other information. They can be compared with previous years, which will show whether we are doing better or worse, but the real comparison is with international standards, which would show how others are doing.
I will take an example, although I accept statistics can be very boring. In the United States, half of all vehicle sales are light trucks, including sports utility vehicles, SUVs. Of what interest to anybody is that, we may ask. To answer, I will bore the House with statistics from the evidence given at the National Highway Traffic Administration. This suggests that half of all new vehicle sales are now light trucks and there are 76 million light trucks in the United States, which constitutes approximately 35% of all registered vehicles.
While that might be of no interest, light trucks are dangerous to passenger cars. There are six passenger car fatalities per driver killed in vans or pick-ups when the two types of vehicle collide. The ratio is even worse for side impacts. There are 26 fatalities among passenger drivers when their cars are hit nearside by a pick-up truck and 16 when hit by an SUV. Roll-overs are a threat to light truck occupants. There are approximately 10,000 fatalities in the United States in roll-over crashes each year. Roll-overs account for 3% of all collisions but 32% of all occupant fatalities. SUVs and pick-ups are three times more likely than passenger cars to roll-over.
This gives an idea of what international standard statistics can mean. We might read statistics for Ireland but not realise what they mean until we have a chance to compare them with other information. For example, further information from the American Academy of Pediatrics was presented to me by Senator Henry. It suggests that despite the greater vehicle weight of SUVs, the risk of injury to children in SUVs is similar to that for children in passenger cars. The potential advantage offered by heavier SUVs seems to be offset by other factors, including an increased tendency to roll over. More details are provided in these statistics, such as the importance of age appropriate child restraints and rear seat positioning.
We would not know of these issues unless we had comparisons with other statistics. The Bill may contain provision for statistics but that is irrelevant unless they are compared with international standards. An interesting statistic from Australia concerns driveway motor vehicle injuries in children. Typically the injury involved a parent or relative reversing a motor vehicle in the home driveway over a toddler or preschool age child in the late afternoon or early evening. Four-wheel drive or light commercial vehicles were involved in 42% of all injuries although they account for just 30% of registered vehicles in New South Wales. It is stated that this suggests a link between a fatal outcome, the age of the child and the size and weight of the vehicle involved.
It is interesting that information on driveway injuries in New South Wales is not collected because they occur on private land. Therefore, this information was collected on a separate basis and included information from New Zealand and the United States.
Until recently we in Ireland did not forensically investigate fatal road collisions â they no longer call them accidents because it is said there is no such thing as an accident. However, the Americans have been carrying out such investigations since the 1950s, so it is possible to make comparisons. Statistics are only of interest when they are compared with statistics based on international standards.
Senator Henry proposed this amendment because she emphatically believes that if we just show statistics without comparing them to international statistics, we will not benefit from them. That is why I urge the Minister of State to accept this simple amendment. It seems unimportant but it is of major importance. It will help to save lives in the future.
I support what is a good amendment. It was Oscar Wilde who said there are lies, damned lies and statistics. However, we should have a measurement of international standards and best practice. The amendment is not in any way contentious and would improve the Bill. We must have some form of measurement. I commend Senator Henry for putting forward this important amendment, which I support. I hope the Minister will accept it.
I support the amendment and thank Senator Henry for proposing it. As I have said in the context of other amendments, the road safety authority is all about statistics and the compiling of information, as noted by Senator Quinn with regard to this simple amendment. It would ensure the authority compared its statistics with international statistics. The Senator made the point well with regard to SUVs, which in Australia have been found to cause more fatalities and more serious injuries than smaller cars due to the solidity of the impact on collision. I support the amendment.
There is no question of my being difficult for the sake of it in not accepting amendments. However, when I explain precisely what is involved it will be clear we are not setting up the authority to a lower standard than international standards. The road safety authority will have responsibility for accident statistics and road safety research. In order to fulfil this responsibility, a research and statistics unit will be established within the authority which will compile and analyse data on accidents in Ireland and will also contribute to Irish and European research projects. It will enable research to be undertaken on various safety initiatives and will stimulate and manage research on road safety matters within the academic and wider community.
A statistician with specialist qualifications and experience in this area has been engaged â we are not awaiting enactment of the Bill for this â who has commenced work on particular projects. As Members know, the chief executive officer pro tem and staff are already in place. It is also planned to recruit two researchers in the near future who will require specialist qualifications and experience in the area of research. The work carried out in this unit will meet appropriate and high standards in each of the respective disciplines.
It is not a question of having standards that are appropriate to Ireland only. This unit will be of the highest standard. We are constantly benchmarking against the European road safety action plan. In the context of our ambition within the European Union and the wider world, I attended a meeting in Dublin last week, chaired by the Minister, Deputy Cullen, of the European conference of Ministers of Transport, which comprised Ministers from 50 countries. The meeting took a decision to extend the programme and it is open to other countries to join us.
Within the Department of Transport, at European level and at the wider international level, we have spent considerable time considering how to improve road safety issues. All of us at the wider international level agree that drink driving, which can be linked to drugs, speeding and the non-wearing of seat belts contribute greatly to the many fatalities in Ireland and Europe generally. Our aim which is an ambitious and realistic one is to reduce road fatalities by 50% by 2012. All countries have bought into this aim of the high level working group within the EU. We are benchmarking all the time against the European road safety action plan. The information and statistics that will be available will be of a high standard. In view of that it is not necessary after "statistics" to insert "to international standards" as that is clearly implied.
I am disappointed the Minister of State will not accept this amendment. I know it is difficult for him to accept amendments. It is the only one that, perhaps, he would consider accepting because his heart is in the right place. I am fully aware of the commitment of the Minister of State and that of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Cullen, to road safety. I am fully aware also of the commitment of the new chairman of the road safety authority. I have no problem in that area whatsoever. The Minister of State mentioned benchmarking. Following a new regime, we all have experience some years later of perhaps the Department or the road safety authority trying to pull the wool over our eyes by saying the position is getting better without disclosing how we compare with international standards. I ask the Minister of State to consider this amendment seriously. I will not push it tonight because it might be reconsidered on Report Stage. It is a minor amendment but is of the utmost importance; it would permit us to display how well we are doing against international standards. The target of reducing road fatalities by 50% by 2012 is a worthy one. In the past others were not as committed to what was intended in the legislation. I urge the Minister of State to rethink this amendment.
I move amendment No. 12:
In page 11, lines 16 to 18, to delete subsection (5).
Subsection (5) provides that a member of the board cannot serve more than two terms. In some cases a person who would have much experience should be allowed to remain on the board if he or she so wishes. For that reason I propose the deletion of that subsection. This would allow for a person with vast experience who has served more than two terms to remain on the board.
I can see where Senator Burke is coming from. There may be persons with exceptional knowledge who can make a major contribution. It would have the effect of allowing a board member to be reappointed indefinitely in perpetuity. The provision allows a board member to service a maximum continuous term of ten years. It does not necessarily specify that a member can only serve ten years. There could well be a break and the member could serve a further period. It is in the interests of good corporate governance to ensure board members are changed to facilitate the development of new programmes by bringing in new people and new ideas to the board. That would generate new approaches and new thinking which would move forward the road safety agenda. If there is a person with exceptional qualities I believe he or she will make that contribution within a ten-year period. I am anxious to ensure good corporate governance. The legislation clearly provides that a continuous term of ten years does not deprive one of serving a further period at some time in the future.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 17, lines 33 to 42, to delete subsection (1).
A number of Members said on Second Stage that members of local authorities, Members of the Oireachtas, whether Senators or Deputies, and Members of the European Parliament should not be precluded from membership of the board. Local authority members, in particular, have vast knowledge of road safety and issues surrounding it and would have a major contribution to make to road safety. It would be a grave injustice to somebody who has much to offer if he or she were to be precluded from membership of the board of the road safety authority. I ask the Minister of State to seriously consider the deletion of subsection (1). We all know local authority members, Members of either House of the Oireachtas or of the European Parliament who have much to offer in this area. They have accumulated vast experience from their travels to various parts of the world and could make a major contribution to improving road safety. As legislators it would be wrong of us to prohibit such persons from membership of the board. If the amendment is accepted they would not be prohibited from membership of the board. It is wrong also that a member of the board on becoming a member of a local authority would be prohibited from membership of the board. I ask the Minister of State to consider the amendment seriously.
I agree with Senator Burke's amendment. It concerns an issue I addressed on Second Stage as did my colleagues, Senators Feeney, Paddy Burke and O'Toole.
Senator Burke has outlined the reasons and I agree with them. Members of local authorities have a vast amount of experience, particularly with regard to road safety issues, which they deal with daily, and on which they lobby to get better conditions for the people they represent. While Members of the Oireachtas and MEPs are also prohibited, I do not agree with that but can see the sense in it because they are legislators. However, I cannot see the sense in prohibiting members of local authorities from being members of the road safety authority, nor does it make sense that if someone is a member of the authority and is doing a good job, and successfully stands in a local or general election, he or she is then obliged to immediately resign from the authority. This is ludicrous. It has crept into other legislation and there is no sense in it. Senator Paddy Burke said it is not compulsory to appoint someone from the Houses of the Oireachtas or from local government to the authority, but such people should not be prohibited from being members of the authority. I urge the Minister of State to consider this issue again.
I support the group of amendments. We encounter this issue regularly in this House. I have spoken to many Ministers on this issue who said they never noticed it until they came into this House. Nobody takes any notice of it in the DÃ¡il. It is most irritating. It is demeaning of public representatives. In effect it says we cannot trust them. On certain occasions it would be inappropriate to have Members of the Oireachtas on a board answerable directly to the Oireachtas for particular areas. We accept that, but this is not the point.
I have discussed this issue many times with Senator Paddy Burke and with Senator Wilson and have chased the matter up on three occasions. What is infuriating is that this did not arise at the suggestion of a Minister, a Department head or an Accounting Officer. It is inserted by the draftsperson, who inserts it each time as a matter of rote.
When I hear the same answer given every time this question is raised, I cannot believe it. It becomes literally incredible. If on this occasion or in this legislation there is a specific reason whereby it would be entirely wrong to have a member of a local authority involved, we would have to listen to the argument made by the Minister of State. As an elected Member of the Oireachtas, does the Minister of State find this demeaning? It suggests we cannot be trusted, that we are "only politicians".
We need to be more accountable in all sorts of ways and give ourselves benchmarks for ethical standards, and we do that as well as we can. We should not be debarred from holding office above any other group in the country. There might have been a case for this when this was a centrally run country, when there was no other group other than a Department of State, but there are now numerous checks and balances. It is all wrong.
I checked recently why certain people were not considered for membership of the Garda reserve. I thought initially there was no sense in debarring auctioneers and so on, and that it was ridiculous, yet realised there was a good reason for debarring certain people, because auctioneers and publicans and so on have to apply to the court, and local gardaÃ have to say whether those people are entitled to have their licences renewed, and so on, so clearly a conflict of interest could occur. One might disagree with that, but it is a logical position to take. I can understand it and must accept the political view, though it seems a little unlikely. However, if one wants to be cleaner than clean it makes sense. I have tried to apply that kind of test when this issue arose on recent occasions in this House, and it does not apply.
On three occasions this has been conceded in this House by Ministers. It was conceded by the former Minister of State, Deputy Jacob, and was conceded twice by the current TÃ¡naiste in legislation in this House. She removed that offensive item as it related to various different boards. On those occasions, an argument was made and the matter was discussed.
This is not a cross-party issue or a matter of great political moment. It is a matter on which all elected politicians in the Houses can take a common view. I ask the Minister of State to accept these arguments, or at least return to the issue with a view to making changes.
I agree with the proposed amendment and agree the section is demeaning to representatives elected by the people. The section is an affront to democracy. Whatever about excluding Oireachtas Members, with which I do not agree, it makes no sense to exclude the people on the ground, local representatives who have so many responsibilities in the area of road safety, be it speed limits or whatever. I ask the Minister of State to accept the amendment. It is sensible, and there is no sense in debarring local authority members from boards.
This is an interesting debate on an issue which has been previously discussed. When I first became a Senator some 13 or 14 years ago, I was stunned to discover that as I was a Member of the Seanad I had to resign from a couple of areas. I could not understand that. It seemed demeaning and suggested I could not be trusted.
I have now come to a different conclusion. It is political parties which cannot be trusted. There is a danger that if one allowed Seanad and DÃ¡il Members to go onto various boards â it is not that they could not be trusted, and it is not demeaning to them, but the criticism is of the political parties â there is little doubt that if one party appointed a couple of its members on one occasion, another party would feel obliged to create a balance in another way. That applied to Members of the Oireachtas, and probably to MEPs too. However, to exclude the 900 local authority members as well is using a huge hammer to swat a fly. I have a difficulty with that. I know the vast majority of them are political appointees and there is a danger involved, but I am sure it can be overcome.
The amendment is a little sweeping because it includes all boards, but there is a balance involved, and I urge the Minister of State to listen to what Senator O'Toole said and see if there is a way around the problem. It is something which has been conceded before, as Senator O'Toole has noted. This could be the occasion on which the Minister of State could consider the matter again and return on Report Stage to say that local authority members can be included.
I will not dwell on the amendment. It states clearly in the legislation that Members of the Oireachtas or the European Parliament and local authority members cannot serve on the road safety authority. I served on a local authority for 12 years and wanted to continue serving, but 1991 legislation precluded Ministers of State from serving on local authorities. I have had long experience working with local authorities since then, particularly when I served in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, and I cannot disagree that there are fine local authority members who have a specific interest in road safety.
However, this legislation provides that the road safety authority can consult widely on all aspects of road safety. There are no parameters to that. In addition, the authority can establish advisory committees that would encompass all the expertise available to it, including that of members of local authorities. The authority would not be precluded from inviting local authority members to serve as members of the advisory committees.
I understand the Senators' motivation. There is a cross-party approach to this. There could be justifiable reasons for this applying to Members of the Oireachtas or Members of the European Parliament but I ask Senators to give me an opportunity to think overnight about this and its application to members of local authorities and if we can differentiate between Members of the Oireachtas, Members of the European Parliament and members of local authorities. I accept the point that there would be no question of prescribing that the Minister had to appoint a member of a local authority or somebody recommended by the General Council of County Councils, the municipal authorities or LAMA, that it would be a matter for the Minister of the day and that it would not be compulsory.
I want to think about this. I am aware of the strength of feeling on the issue. The Senators have made a strong point. It is not a question of them serving their electorate because local authority members are not part of the electorate of two of the Senators at this stage of their mandate. I am not trying to differentiate between the Senators; they are making a serious point and are reflecting a cross-party view in the House. I ask the House to give me an opportunity to think about the local authority members aspect and I will come back to it on Report Stage.
I welcome the Minister of State's approach and I am happy to go along with it. I appreciate his thoughtful response. My first working involvement in politics was as a member of the road safety committee of Dublin County Council. I was wearing an educational hat. It was my introduction to sitting in a room and working with politicians. I was a young teacher at the time. I was impressed by their commitment and interest. That was 25 to 30 years ago and they were discussing new ideas such as cycle lanes and all sorts of other developments that have come into being since then.
I accept the Minister of State's point about Members of the Oireachtas. I do not agree with him on it but I am prepared to let it pass. I will be happy if he deals with the other issue. All the members of the board are appointed by the Minister. This is a particular type of board but there are other boards to which the Minister appoints two people and other people are on the board by virtue either of their office or of being nominated by a body. It might be inappropriate to allow the ministerial nominees to be Members of the Oireachtas. That would be asking for trouble. However, what if a Member were put forward by another body by virtue of some other qualification, for example, if a person was nominated to the road safety authority by the medical profession and that person happened to be a Member of the Houses of the Oireachtas? That is the type of occurrence we should examine.
I accept that we do not want to invite a situation where boards are filled with ministerial appointees who happen to be Members of the Houses. That was never the argument. We are arguing that Members might become members of a board by virtue of wearing another hat, being from another place or having an expertise. It is the denial of expertise to the board because a member is an elected representative that is unacceptable. I appreciate the Minister of State's comments.
The point has been well made by Senators Cummins, Wilson, Quinn and O'Toole. It is a cross-party issue. The Minister of State is probably genuine in saying he will give it serious consideration overnight. Amendments Nos. 13, 14 and 15 are intertwined. If I put the amendment to a vote, I will be unable to resubmit it on Report Stage. In view of that, I hope the Minister of State gives an honest commitment to examine this seriously. I agree with Senator O'Toole. I accept the point with regard to Members of the Oireachtas but local authority members are central to this issue. There is no reason that they should be precluded from being on the board. They have vast experience. They might never be on the board but we, as legislators, should not bar them from it. If the Minister of State gives me that commitment, I will not press the amendments tonight but will resubmit them for Report Stage.
I thank the Minister of State for his commitment. Senator Burke wondered if he is genuine but I have known the Minister of State for a long time. He is a genuine person and if he takes on something, he does so in good faith. He might not be able to achieve what we want but I thank him for taking time to reconsider the situation. I also thank the other Senators for their contributions on this important matter. One hears the phrase about turkeys voting for Christmas and I do not wish to do that.
Apart from that, I believe it is wrong to have the provision in this legislation.
I detect clear water between amendments Nos. 13, 14 and 15 but if there is not, we can deal with them tomorrow. Let me examine this overnight before discussing it tomorrow. If I decide to do this, I might have to put down an amendment to deal with it.