Tuesday, 3 October 2006
Road Traffic and Transport Bill 2006: Committee and Remaining Stages
If a person refuses to give mandatory alcohol test, he or she will face a fine, imprisonment or both. The fine is €5,000 and imprisonment can be up to six months. If a garda is of the opinion that a person is under the influence, he or she can request an evidential test. If that person refuses, then an automatic disqualification of two years will also apply.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 7, before section 3, to insert the following new section:
3.—(1) The Principal Act is amended in section 53(2)—
(a) in paragraph (a) by the substitution of "fine," for "fine and",
(b) in paragraph (b) by the substitution of "imprisonment and," for "imprisonment.", and
(c) by the insertion of the following paragraph in subsection (2):
"(c) and in any case shall be liable to a mandatory disqualification from driving for a period of not less than 6 months and not more than 3 years.".
(2) In this section, "Principal Act" means the Road Traffic Act 1961.".
In a dangerous driving case, it is up to the judge to give sentence. In such cases I am proposing a mandatory sentence of between six months and three years rather than leaving it to a judge's discretion.
This issue was debated at some length before. Tying the hands of judges in all cases is not necessarily the best. A member of the Garda Síochána who suspects an individual for dangerous driving can arrest him or her without a warrant. A person convicted of dangerous driving causing death or serious body harm can be sentenced to penal servitude, in other words a prison term up to ten years, or at the discretion of the court, a fine of up to €15,000, or both. In any other case, a fine up to €2,500 can be imposed or, at the discretion of the court, imprisonment for up to six months, or both. In addition a person convicted of a first offence of dangerous driving may face disqualification for driving for one year. For a second and subsequent offence it can be two years.
Where death or serious injury occurs, the individual can be disqualified from two years for a first offence and four years for a second or subsequent offence. In the case of a first offence of dangerous driving where death or serious injury did not occur, the court has the option, where it is satisfied that a special reason which has been provided by the convicted person exists, to decline a consequential disqualification order or to specify a period of disqualification in the disqualification order of less than one year.
The Road Traffic Act 2006 provides for increases to fines for road traffic offences and to periods of disqualification relating to consequential disqualification orders, including those relating to drink driving. The Act removes from the court the option to decline to make a disqualification order in the case of a first offence of dangerous driving. These provisions will commence presently.
The will of the Oireachtas is clear. Not all dangerous driving cases are related to drink. Dangerous driving can occur in, say, a car park. Some discretion must be in place for the courts in the particular cases that come before them. The will of the Oireachtas is clear that in cases where drink driving is involved, the convicted person should lose their licence. The will of the Oireachtas should be observed and listened to by the courts.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 7, before section 3, to insert the following new section:
3.—The Minister shall, as soon as is practicable, begin the process of producing a Road Traffic Consolidation Act that will act as a consolidated statute of all road traffic legislation.".
This amendment relates to by-laws. Some events facilities, for example Croke Park, see many largely attended fixtures. For people living in residential areas around these facilities, they are prisoners in their houses during such events. Croke Park is being used more often for various events. Who can make by-laws to facilitate residents in such circumstances? As it stands, the Minister says the local authority has the power to implement by-laws. Local authorities, on the other hand, say it is a matter for the Minister to make regulations and to put forward by-laws by regulation. There is much ambiguity in terms of the respective roles of the Minister's office and the local authorities. This amendment would clarify the position by allowing for a clear stipulation of whether, for example, the Minister would give such power to the local authority or whether the persons concerned should apply and the Minister should make the by-laws. The ambiguity in this matter must be removed by a provision allowing for the assignation of this power to a specific person or body.
I apologise to Senator Paddy Burke; I understood this amendment was ruled out of order. However, I understand the issue and am happy to respond to him. A group from Croke Park, including Councillor Fitzpatrick and various Deputies and Senators, have spoken to me about it. In the course of this engagement, I made the point that I cannot legislate for Croke Park alone. It is an issue that arises throughout the country in regard to various types of functions, mainly sporting events, sometimes concerts and so on.
I have given all the information to the Office of the Attorney General and am awaiting advice. On foot of this advice, I will consult all the concerned groups. Senator Paddy Burke is correct that it is an important issue and I am trying to find the legal basis to deal with it, after which there will be a short period of public consultation. We may be able to enact legislation that goes even further than the Senator suggests in this amendment. I would appreciate if he would wait until I get clarity on this issue. I have told all the groups of my plan and they seem content to be consulted on the basis of an agreed legislative framework.
I am pleased there is to be a consultation process. The Minister said earlier that he would bring further legislation before the House in the not too distant future. Will he give me a guarantee that this matter will be rectified in the next legislation he brings through the Houses?
The Senator has identified my intention that this issue should be fitted into a road traffic Bill or some other Bill after the consultation I referred to has taken place. I am glad to tease these matters out with the local groups but I do not believe there are any contentious issues in this regard. My intention is simply to frame this measure in such a way that we can be sure we do it right. The challenge is to ensure we frame something that can be applied nationally rather than only to one specific area. The same principles arise on all occasions. It is my intention to include this provision in legislation if I can get agreement to do so.
I thank Senators on both sides of the House for facilitating the passage of this important Bill which will assist in improving safety on our roads. The two technical errors recently discovered in the principal Act will now be corrected. I am glad we have also addressed an important policy issue, especially in regard to nurses as well as doctors being able to take blood samples in Garda stations. I thank all colleagues for their assistance and support.