Tuesday, 29 November 2011
Road Transport Bill 2011: Second Stage
The Bill is being brought to the House as a matter of urgency to deal with a number of issues that arise from the coming into force of EU regulations on road transport operators on 4 December. I thank the House for facilitating me in this regard. Those largely technical issues arise to a large degree from the introduction of EU regulations replacing a previous EU directive. In changing the basis for national implementation, some matters previously provided under national regulations must now be provided for in primary legislation. I have also taken the opportunity in the Bill to introduce a small number of new provisions and to make minor amendments to provisions such as false declarations and conditions on licences.
I will give the House an outline of the road transport sector and the context for the legislation. We are talking about the commercial road transport sector, that is the sector that provides road haulage and road passenger transport for hire and reward. This encompasses a considerable amount of the freight traffic within the State and the greater part of road passenger transport, including Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus services. All operators for hire and reward require a licence from my Department and the licensing of operators is an EU requirement. This reflects the trans-European nature of the business of many operators and the interests of all member states in having a sector that is reliable, safe and accountable.
There are approximately 7,000 licensed operators in Ireland using approximately 25,000 large vehicles. The sector clearly is important to our economy, both in the movement of goods and people, and as a significant employer. High standards in the sector and the good reputation that goes with them are important for its competitiveness, both at home and across Europe. The public must also have the assurance that the operators they engage are licensed, safe, reliable and amenable to the law. It is equally important that legitimate operators are not undermined by those operating without licences or by those who are licensed but do not comply with the licence conditions, including vehicle and driver safety on the roads.
A strong and competitive road transport sector is important for our economy and the road transport legislation must to support that. It must set the standards, influence positive and responsible behaviour, and eliminate financial gain from non-compliance by setting effective deterrents. Road transport is regulated by various Road Transport Acts since 1933, augmented by EU legislation and national regulations. From time to time consolidation of the legislation is needed and regular review is good practice to take into account developments in the road transport sector, the nature of the business and EU policies among others. I am currently looking at all road transport legislation and I hope to bring forward an updated and comprehensive road transport Bill next year to replace the existing Acts and to set the direction for road transport policy for the coming years. The Bill before the House is a small step in that direction. While Senators may have a number of more general proposals to make about the sector, I may not be able to take them into account in this Bill, but I will consider them for the next Bill.
The Road Transport Bill 2011 introduces three improvements immediately. First, it strengthens the existing provisions on the fitness and suitability of road transport operators. Second, it provides greater access to information so that the public can find out who is, or is not, licensed. Third, it provides for much greater penalties for unlicensed operators and introduces some new offences to improve compliance by existing operators.
As I indicated earlier, the Bill is needed to ensure certain existing provisions remain in force after 4 December. Those provisions are as follows: road passenger transport operations require a licence, and operation without a licence continues to be an offence; fees can be charged for licences; the appeal provisions where an application for such a licence is refused or where such a licence is withdrawn will continue to apply; and exemptions from the requirement to have a road transport operator licence will continue to apply. These include such things as the carriage of mail and funeral transport.
The reason these provisions will otherwise cease to have effect is somewhat convoluted, but I can summarise it for the House. The licensing of road haulage provisions is in general set out in the Road Transport Acts. When EU Directive 96/26 came into force, certain passenger transport licensing provisions were provided in national regulations made under the European Communities Act. As that European Union directive will be replaced by new European Union regulations with effect from 4 December, any national regulations which relate to the directive will cease to have effect on the same date. EU regulations have direct effect and apply automatically, usually only requiring national regulations on such matters as providing for offences and penalties, designating the national authority and so on. In preparing those national regulations, the advice was that for legal reasons, certain elements of EU regulation require primary legislation, rather than national regulation as previously thought. I will go into more detail on particular provisions when outlining the individual sections of the Bill.
I have mentioned three additional provisions which the Bill will introduce. The fitness and suitability of operators are key licensing criteria, given the nature of the road transport business in transporting goods or passengers, travelling across national boundaries and with regard to safety on the road network. This comes under the heading of good repute and it is the case that not all applicants will satisfy this requirement. For example, certain convictions or penalties in respect of road safety, vehicle defects, excessive driver errors or smuggling must raise questions about good repute in a road transport business. They potentially can give grounds for refusing an application or withdrawing a licence and this already is part of national policy and legislation. Convictions relating to a range of serious and violent offences, such as murder, human trafficking and drug trafficking, also have a direct bearing on good repute. The Bill provides for this specifically in primary legislation. It extends the range of positions within an operation to which it applies and allows the Minister to take into account any of the offences whenever they occurred. My objective in doing this is to strengthen the good repute provisions and the powers to refuse applications or withdraw licences where this is necessary.
Existing national regulations relating to serious convictions are affected by the European Union regulations. They will cease to have effect on 4 December and even a restatement could not, as previously, provide for automatic disqualification for five years from the date of conviction. The European Union regulations allow applications to be made and require member states to engage in an administrative process whenever they are considering refusing or withdrawing a licence. In other words, a person cannot be prohibited from applying for a licence. The good repute consideration can be a rigorous process and an application can be refused. An appeal process to the District Court already is provided for in the Road Transport Acts regarding the refusal or withdrawal of haulage licences and this has been restated and updated in this Bill and combined with passenger licences.
The existing regulations related only to serious convictions of the operator but the Bill extends this to include other positions in the business such as directors, business partners and transport managers and, crucially, to drivers with passenger firms. This is particularly important since such drivers can have access to children, the elderly and other vulnerable people in the course of their work. Any convictions for serious or violent offences, such as murder or serious sexual offences, should quite rightly be taken into consideration in the licensing process.
The availability of information on who is or is not licensed is important for the public and customers of the haulage and passenger transport services. A register of operator licences already is kept by my Department and is available for public inspection but its accessibility can be improved. In this day and age, such information should be available online and the Bill provides for that. Online information will help identify to the public if particular operators, large or small, are currently licensed and if the vehicles they are using are authorised on the licence. Licensed operators must meet certain financial and competence requirements, their vehicles must be compliant with all safety requirements and licensed operators are subject to checks and inspections. Unlicensed illegal operators are potentially less safe and less reliable, with consequent risks for any goods or passengers carried. The Bill will also make it an offence for anyone to claim they are a licensed operator when they are not. This should deter any operators from putting words such as licensed haulier on a truck when they have no haulage licence. Having the register in place will make it easier for enforcement authorities to confirm this and to enforce the licensing rules in general.
Realistic penalties must be in place to deter illegal activities and operators and the Bill significantly increases the penalties for operating without a licence and introduces some new offences. Currently, for example, the maximum penalty for operating without a haulage licence is €6,350, and there is no provision for a prison term. That penalty was set 25 years ago and is hardly a deterrent any more. This Bill will provide that the maximum fine for operating without a licence is €500,000 or a prison term of three years or both. This demonstrates clearly that we are serious in tackling illegal and unsafe operators.
The Bill also will provide the same maximum penalty for consignors who engage illegal operators. For every unlicensed operator flouting the law, there is an unscrupulous consignor willing to save a few euro by employing an unlicensed operator, thereby putting unfair pressure on compliant and legally licensed operators and putting questionable vehicles on the road. The message I want to give out is clear - unlicensed operators are far more likely to be unsafe, less reliable and to be poor employers. Anyone who gives them business is complicit in their activities and will be liable to the same staff penalties.
The Bill also introduces new offences. It will be an offence to operate a vehicle which is not authorised on a licence, even if the operator is licensed, and the maximum penalty will be €500,000. It is important that the vehicles used are known and authorised, not just in relation to vehicle safety but in regard to motor tax and insurance. Another new offence relates to making false declarations to obtain a licence, or forging or altering licences. This latter kind of activity is on the increase and needs to be made an offence with appropriate penalties.
These and other provisions of the Bill will help my Department, the gardaí and the RSA to improve compliance in the sector. They should also help the great majority of hauliers and passenger operators who are responsible, law abiding and willing to compete fairly on a level playing field. I do not claim to address all road transport issues or concerns in this Bill, given its particular time imperative. It is, however, my intention to take a wider and more long-term perspective on the sector in a road transport Bill next year.
I now turn to the specific provisions, which set some of the context for the Senators. Section 1 deals with definitions. These are standard provisions. Section 2 deals with the obligation on a operator to inform the Minister of certain convictions. This is the main section relating to certain serious convictions. It requires an applicant or a licensed operator to inform the Minister of certain serious convictions and it relates those convictions to the operator, to certain positions within the operation such as directors, business partners and transport managers and to drivers with passenger transport operations. The serious convictions are murder, manslaughter, drug trafficking, certain non-fatal offences against the person, human trafficking, certain sexual offences, certain money laundering, theft and fraud offences, firearms offences, and aiding and abetting any of the above. The section relates to convictions in Ireland or in another jurisdiction, and the Minister must be notified of certain details, including the nature of the offence, the penalty or sentence and if the offence was committed in the course of, or connected with, a road transport business. Failure to inform the Minister or providing false information will be an offence and grounds for refusing an application or suspending or withdrawing a licence.
Section 3 deals with the obligation to inform an operator of certain convictions. This section requires those holding certain positions to inform the operator of any of the specified convictions which apply to them and makes it an offence to fail to do so.
Section 4 requires the Minister to consider certain convictions. This section provides that the convictions set out in section 2 are to be considered by the Minister in relation to good repute of an applicant or an operator. This is one of the four criteria for a road transport operator licence, the others being financial standing, professional competence of the transport manager and establishment in the State. The section restates the Minister's powers to decide in relation to good repute that a licence can be refused, suspended or withdrawn.
Section 5 covers appeals. The section maintains the current provisions relating to appeals to the District Court against refusal, withdrawal or suspension of a passenger transport operator's licence by the Minister. It is one of the provisions currently in national regulations which now require primary legislation. I have also taken the opportunity to combine the appeal provisions with those for road haulage operator licences.
Section 6 deals with evidence of foreign convictions. This sets out the nature of evidence of foreign convictions required in proceedings for an offence in section 2. These proceedings relate to the failure to inform the Minister of specified convictions.
Section 7 deals with continued compliance in terms of an operator's licence. For the avoidance of doubt, this section restates and clarifies existing provisions. The Minister may request and must be given any necessary information from an applicant or a licence holder so that the Minister can be satisfied the person meets or continues to meet the licensing requirements. It also provides that a licence is the property of the Minister and must be returned where the licence is suspended or withdrawn.
Section 8 deals with a change of details in an operator's licence or application. This is a new provision which requires an applicant or licensed operator to notify the Minister of any changes in details or circumstances, which would mean he or she no longer meets the requirements for a licence. For example, changed circumstances might mean an operator no longer meets the financial standing criteria or no longer has a suitable transport manager.
Section 9 deals with the requirement to hold an operator's licence. This replaces existing provisions for road passenger transport which now require primary legislation and it combines them with similar existing road haulage provisions. It provides that a person may not carry on the business of a road transport operator without a licence, a licensed operator may not operate a vehicle that is not specified in the licence, a person may not engage in the services of a road transport operator for hire or reward unless the operator is licensed or the services are exempted, and the types of carriage listed in the Schedule are exempted from the requirement to have a licence. The Schedule lists activities such as carriage of mail, carriage of refuse and funeral transport. This is not the full list of exempted activities, as others are already included in the Road Transport Acts. This is a good example of the need for consolidation of the legislation which I hope to address next year.
Section 10 prohibits purporting to operate other than in accordance with an operator's licence. This is a new provision for passenger transport operators but reflects existing provisions for road haulage operators. Section 11 refers to the obligation to carry a copy of an operator's licence and display a transport disc on a vehicle. This section relates to enforcement and easy identification of licensed and unlicensed operators. It requires operators to ensure that all appropriate documentation is kept in their vehicles and that the vehicles properly display their transport disc. It also empowers the Garda and transport officers to inspect such documents when required. Again, this is a restatement in primary legislation of an existing passenger transport provision, and combines it with existing road haulage provisions.
Section 12 refers to registers and restates and adds to existing provisions relating to a register of operator licences and certificates of competence for transport managers. It repeats existing provisions which establish the register, require the register to be available for inspection and enable the public to obtain copies of entries. It adds a provision that the register may be published on the Internet on the Department's website, and clarifies that the information provided may include vehicle details. The facility to publish online is not possible without primary legislation, but such an arrangement will improve public access to information on licensed businesses.
Section 13 replaces existing provisions relating to fees for passenger transport licences. It is another example of an existing provision which now requires primary legislation and combines it with similar provisions for road haulage licences. I have also taken the opportunity to provide for the payment of fees for a wider range of documents such as duplicates and replacements, and to include the fees paid for transport manager training and certification which is carried out on my behalf.
Section 14 on false declarations extends the existing provisions on offences for making false declarations or providing false information when applying for a licence to include offences for altering or forging documents. Section 15 on prosecutions and body corporate offences restates the standard provision on offences by bodies corporate to cover the offences under the Bill. The section also provides that a summary offence under the Bill may be prosecuted by the Minister or by the Road Safety Authority.
Section 16 on transport officers restates the existing provisions on the powers of transport officers of the Road Safety Authority to include references to the Bill, EU regulations, and any road transport regulations made under the European Communities Acts. Section 17 relates to search warrants and restates existing provisions on the road transport enforcement powers of RSA transport officers to search premises under warrant, so they are linked to offences under the Bill. Section 18 on transport managers combines existing provisions on requirements for transport managers of passenger and road haulage operations.
Section 19 amends section 2 of Road Traffic and Transport Act 2006 to include "established in the State" as a criterion for obtaining a road transport operator's licence, as required under the new EU regulations. The other criteria are good repute, financial standing and professional competence. It also takes the opportunity to allow application forms to be determined by the Minister, rather than be prescribed in regulations as is currently the case for passenger transport operations, and to state for clarity that any conditions attached to a licence must be complied with, and that the Minister may refuse to grant a licence until the applicant has complied with the application regulations.
Section 20 is on the community licence and amends a definition in the Road Transport Act 1999 to include reference to the EU regulations. Section 21 is a standard provision on the service of notices and notifications, such as those in section 5 on appeals. Sections 22 and 23 refer to expenses, the short title and construction. These are standard provisions. My intention is that the Bill will come into operation immediately on being signed by the President. The Scheduleexempts certain types of carriage from the requirement to hold a road transport operator licence.
This, in essence, summarises the Road Transport Bill. As I outlined at the beginning of my speech, the Bill is being brought to the House as a matter of urgency to deal with a number of particular issues that arise from new EU regulations on road transport operators which come into force on 4 December. A small number of additional provisions have been included to improve some elements of licensing.
I fully recognise that the circumstances of the Bill do not allow a full consideration of the many and varied aspects of road transport, which could potentially provide material for lively debate, new ideas and amending legislation. However, as the Bill deals with the most urgent issues, I see it as the first step in a comprehensive review process, and I have a more detailed road transport consolidation Bill in mind for next year. I look forward to the co-operation of Senators in facilitating the passage of the Bill, and I commend the Bill to the House.
I welcome the Minister back to the House. By his own statement he accepts, at least tacitly, that this is rushed legislation. It has appeared before us with undue haste, especially considering that this matter was flagged nearly two years ago as something that was coming down the line.
Clearly, this measure should have been before us long before now, yet it only reached the Dáil last week. If we do not pass this legislation we will end up in a virtual limbo in terms of transport regulation. We will not allow that to happen of course, so I assure the Minister that my party will facilitate the passage of the Bill. I wish to record our unhappiness, however, that it has been allowed to drag on to this extent. It bodes ill if Government Departments get into the habit of waiting until almost the last minute to produce legislation. It is almost like putting a gun to the head of the Dáil and Seanad, and saying, "We have to pass this, or we're in difficulty".
Having said that, I support the legislation and welcome the Minister's commitment to introducing a more comprehensive Bill on the transport system. I look forward to that, at which time, hopefully, we will be able to raise quite a number of extra issues that will not come under the remit of tonight's debate.
This Bill, which derives from EU regulation No. 107123, creates the backdrop to this debate and replaces certain directives. In general, it is an improved situation which strengthens and enhances the supervision of the transport sector, which is to be welcomed for a number of specific reasons. It is important that a sector as vital to the domestic economy as transport is seen to be properly regulated. Any strengthening in that regard must be welcomed. The public need to have trust and confidence in the public transport system, both for passengers and goods. The Bill should certainly go a long way towards that.
I also welcome the fact that the register of operators will be available on-line, and that the Minister seems to be committed to progressing that. I would like to see more Departments taking up that because the more information to which the public can have access, the better. There is nothing to hide and everything to gain from the public knowing as much as possible about who is in charge of transport movements and who is driving the logistics, if Members will pardon the pun.
While there are rogue operators in every walk of life, they should not be allowed to piggyback on legitimate, law-abiding business people by undercutting, and therefore undermining, legitimate business. I welcome the Minister's commitment to ensuring that will not happen.
The concept of good repute is central to the Bill. We all support a situation whereby a Minister would have all the information available to him or her about characters either involved in driving or managing transport operations before granting a licence. I hope, however, the Minister of the day would not automatically deny an operating licence because a person has had a criminal conviction and has served time. The Minister should clarify that point.
Nobody could envisage any possibility of a convicted sex offender or paedophile driving a bus or getting involved in school transport. That is out of the question. None the less, somebody convicted of manslaughter or a crime of passion may have served his time and been rehabilitated in the penal system. Having come forward and entered into gainful employment, there is every possibility that the individual would be found suitable to be entrusted with work in the transport sector. Will the Minister confirm that the provision of authority to get information is contained in the Bill, and also the ability to act on it while not necessarily being tied by it?
I welcome that the Garda and transport officers will have an easier job in detecting licensing offences and in taking necessary steps in cases of infringement. I do not need to go over the statistics for the transport sector as the Minister referred to them. We have 7,000 licensed operators, involving approximately 25,000 vehicles, with more than 50,000 people employed in the sector between drivers, mechanics, warehousing personnel and administrative people. Transport is the sinew of all business, which cannot survive without a proper transport system for suppliers, deliveries and so on.
I like the way the Minister is categorising the different people involved in the sector to whom licensing will apply. The relevant people include drivers, directors and partners, and the legislation is quite clear. I have received correspondence from the Irish Road Haulage Association, which seems to be rather sceptical of the swingeing fine of €500,000 or three years imprisonment. It is of the opinion that this will not happen and no judge in his right mind would impose such penalties. What is the Minister's response? Are we putting into law unrealistic penalties which might in some way undermine the integrity of the Bill?
I would like to see the Minister building on the website information. I wish we could fast-forward to a day when our Garda patrol cars could be equipped with an Internet facility and would be able to go online if gardaí are engaging with a bus or truck driver. They would be in a position to have all the information they want online and this would reduce the need for the provision in the Bill for people to produce licences. We might put a stop to the paper trail not only in this instance but with driving licences, insurance, national car tests, etc. The more we can do this online with Garda technology, the more logical the work will be.
The Minister referred to exemptions, which are interesting. In the Dáil my colleague, Deputy Timmy Dooley, referred to exemptions which previously obtained with regard to agri-transport. I did not have time to see what the response was so I will repeat the Deputy's question. Under the old dispensation, transport of cattle, sheep, milk products to or from a creamery, turf and freshly harvested oats and barley were exempt but such exemptions are not specified in this Bill.
Another concern for the Irish Road Haulage Association and speakers here is own account transport operations, which are responsible for 65% of total transport in the country. Why do they not come under the terms of the Bill and is there a particular reason they should not be subject to regulation, supervision and licensing? I confess that the term "cabotage" was not in my lexicon until recently but having looked it up in the dictionary, I now understand what it means. It sounded like something done to a taxi driver late at night if he was going the wrong direction. It is obviously not within the remit of the Bill to discuss it, which I accept, but it is a serious problem for Irish transport business and puts it at a serious disadvantage with regard to other countries because we are an island nation. I hope the Minister will address the issue in the legislation he referred to.
There is not much more to say. Cost is a significant factor in the success or otherwise of a transport enterprise. We have seen from one of the many inspired leaks from Cabinet, of which the country is terrified, that there is reference to the increased cost of diesel and petrol duty, VAT and carbon taxes. That will drive costs higher for operators and bring about job losses. As the Minister also deals with tourism he might be interested to know that it might mitigate against moving tourists from cities such as Dublin to the rural regions like Kerry and Donegal. If transport costs are to be high, it will be another negative factor.
I look forward to the prospect of the Minister introducing some additional comprehensive legislation for taxi regulation, although it is not relevant to this Bill. The issue could be reviewed. I welcome the Bill generally and commend the Minister.
I welcome the Minister to the House and compliment him on his speech to the House today in which he explained the Bill very well. I am pleased to welcome this Bill to the Upper House on behalf of Fine Gael. The timeframe and the technical nature of the Bill mean that its passage through the Oireachtas should be smooth and efficient. The origin of the Bill's provisions in the EU directive highlights the importance of the scrutiny of EU legislation by our Oireachtas committees as well as the fact that much work has been done on this particular matter before it reached the floor of the Seanad. I agree with Senator O'Sullivan when he asked why, if the legislation has been around for two years, it is coming before us this late. We can blame both sides.
The Minister has outlined the provisions of the Bill and my contribution will deal with it. He has indicated he will bring another transport Bill before the Houses of the Oireachtas next year and I will broaden the discussion to take in the issue.
I was interested to read about the wide scope of the commercial road transport sector which provides for road haulage and road passenger transport for hire and reward. An enormous amount of freight traffic is transported by road within this State. Unlike other countries, which still use their rivers and canals, particularly on the Continent, or countries that make great use of commercial trains, such as Australia, almost everything which is transported commercially within this State is transported by road. All of these operators for hire and reward require a licence from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, an aspect of EU law reflecting the EU's great work is achieving high standards of safety and good regulation right across the Union. We cannot underestimate what a positive and welcome achievement this is and, at this time where there is so much negativity around the EU project, we would do well to reflect on its many positive initiatives to protect consumers by ensuring high standards in sectors such as commercial road transport.
As the Minister and Senator O'Sullivan pointed out, the 7,000 licensed operators in Ireland operate around 25,000 large vehicles which gives some insight into the scale of the sector. Since the opening of the Dublin Port tunnel, these vehicles are no longer as visible within the city of Dublin. However, they make significant use of our motorway network. Driving on an Irish motorway late at night or very early in the morning, one can see that often the only traffic is comprised of trucks.
I have heard that since the opening of new sections of the M7 and M8 and the introduction of a toll plaza outside Portlaoise, many road users, including commercial road users, are avoiding the toll by exiting the motorway before the toll and travelling down the old Dublin to Cork road through the towns and villages of Abbeyleix, Durrow, Cullahill, Johnstown and Urlingford before rejoining the motorway outside Urlingford. This has caused some annoyance to the residents of these small towns who looked forward to saying goodbye to commercial freight vehicles when the new motorway opened. I would like to hear the Minister's views on the cost of tolls for commercial vehicles. At Portlaoise, for example, the current toll for a vehicle with four or more axles is €5.70. For businesses that would have a large number of commercial vehicles using the road network, such tolls would add significantly to the cost of doing business. I would like to hear the Minister's views on the matter. I am concerned, as many in Fine Gael are, about addressing the weaknesses in the economy around cost and competition. However, in the case of tolls, perhaps the benefit to businesses makes it worth their while in terms of the time that is saved transporting goods. I would also like to hear the Minister's views on tolls in general. We have a significant challenge ahead of us in trying to address the catastrophic economic heritage that the Government was saddled with upon taking office. The opportunities to increase Exchequer income are not unlimited and tolls may be something that become more common in the future.
Before leaving the topic of the M8 motorway, I must refer to a matter in my own county of Kilkenny. The new road does not take account of the location of a major commercial entity in north Kilkenny, namely, Glanbia. Glanbia trucks coming from Cork have to exit the M8 motorway at Urlingford and travel along the N8 road as far as Durrow to reach the factory at Ballyragget. There is no suitable exit from the motorway closer to the factory so the trucks have to travel almost 20 km on the N8 road rather than having the benefit of the motorway. That is adding to the problems previously mentioned in the small towns and villages of north Kilkenny and south Laois which find the streets still populated by commercial vehicles despite the construction of a new motorway right beside them.
While on the topic of commercial vehicles, I must refer to the Port of Waterford, which is actually located in County Kilkenny. Senator Cullinane will be aware of that. Members will have been taught in national school that Kilkenny is a landlocked county but we have the Port of Waterford.
It is the Port of Waterford but it is in County Kilkenny. The port is a fantastic employer in the area and its location as the closest multi-modal port to continental Europe means it is of key strategic importance. The Minister, Deputy Varadkar, is no doubt familiar with Waterford as he has many relations in the area. Perhaps on another occasion he will speak to the Seanad about the ports and what plans he has for their future.
While commercially we associate the ports with economic success, there is another side to the story too. Unfortunately, commercial vehicles can often be used by drug smugglers and human traffickers. Perhaps the Minister could outline to the House what co-ordination exists between his Department and other relevant Departments in this context, including the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Finance. Addressing smuggling issues requires strong interdepartmental co-ordination. This country is often referred to as a soft touch in terms of the ease with which drugs and, sadly, vulnerable people can be smuggled in, which is an issue that requires urgent attention.
To return to the Bill, I strongly welcome the improvements that it will introduce to the commercial road transport sector. The Minister has singled out three key improvements, namely, the strengthening of the existing provisions regarding the fitness and suitability of operators to engage in the profession, the provision of greater access to information in order that the public can find out who is licensed, and the imposition of much greater penalties on unlicensed operators and the provision for new offences aimed at improving compliance by existing operators. These provisions are clearly underpinned by a desire to protect public safety by introducing greater professionalism and transparency to the sector.
The reason we are dealing with this Bill in an expedited manner is to ensure that certain existing provisions remain in force after 4 December, in particular, that road passenger transport operations must be licensed, that operating without a licence will be an offence, that fees can be charged for passenger transport licences, that the appeal provisions where an application for a road passenger transport licence is refused or where such a licence is withdrawn will continue to apply, and that exemptions from the requirement to have a road transport operator licence will continue to apply. These include the carriage of mail and funeral transport. The Minister has indicated that he intends to introduce a consolidated road transport Bill in the near future. That would be an excellent initiative which would prevent the need for him to introduce legislation to keep existing measures in place, such as is the case with the Bill before the House.
I welcome the Minister's announcement, which has nothing to do with the Bill, that he is to introduce roadside drug testing for motorists in order to clamp down on drug driving. When the legislation comes before this House and the Lower House it will receive unanimous support. I congratulate the Minister on the matter.
I also congratulate him on introducing the Bill today. He has been before this House on a frequent basis since assuming office, which is an indication of his dedication to his brief and his high work rate. I wish him continued success and I look forward to continuing to work with him in the future in my capacity as Fine Gael spokesperson on transport in this House.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Varadkar. I always enjoy my discussions with him. I am pleased there is to be a further Bill next year. That is essential. We must stop having stop-gap measures. The previous Bill was exactly two years ago when the then Minister, Mr. Noel Dempsey, announced with public relations and accompanying documentation that he was revolutionising the regulation of the bus business. He did nothing of the sort. He maintained the monopoly of CIE and gave it every penny of subsidy without competitive tendering, and he gave it automatic access to huge investment grants. In saying he was opening up the bus business in a consumer-oriented way, he was doing the exact opposite.
That seems to be the precedent the Department of Transport has set. The Minister also brought in an earlier signature motion and had to chase after President McAleese to sign the Bill earlier. Now we are asked to do the same with the new President. The Department of Transport needs to pull its socks up on some of these matters such as meeting EU deadlines.
This is not a good Bill. The red herring of safety has been raised yet again. The Department always does that. In the screening impact analysis for the previous Bill it said the people it does not like are always unsafe compared with the people it does like. That is the Department that presided over the Kentstown crash for which CIE was fined €2.5 million, the Wellington Quay crash, for which there has been no account, and the Malahide railway viaduct collapse. Will the pot please stop calling the kettle black? This is the last refuge argument the Department uses against people it does not like, that they are unsafe and must be registered.
I wish to put the case for the sector that has been portrayed as needing this criminal legislation, which includes fines of €500,000 and three years in jail. When the then Minister, Mr. Peter Barry, opened up the freight sector in 1986 over a two-year period, it had approximately 1,000 vehicles and approximately 9% of the market. It currently has 72% of the market, 27% for own account transport, as Senator O'Sullivan mentioned, and only 1% left on the railways. One could ask how it got there. The sector knocked on the doors of Irish industry and said it could do the job better than the in-house fleet or the railways. It won that argument. The sector went from 1,000 vehicles when the then Minister, Mr. Peter Barry, deregulated the industry to 25,000. That is normally called entrepreneurship and success. That should be recognised.
The Department's track record against these people began in 1933 when the then Minister, Mr. Seán Lemass, said he hoped it would be possible for the Great Southern Railway and the other railway companies to establish what he described as a monopoly position. Fine Gael was of the same view at the time. In the previous year when the then Minister, Mr. McGilligan, was getting rid of more than 1,000 independent bus companies, he said he looked forward to seeing them disappear by degrees. They have not. They own 79% of the bus vehicles. The Department has spent 79 years trying to put people out of business, yet they have 79% of the vehicles. It is a remarkable tribute to the inefficiency of the Department of Transport. The private sector has 4,890 vehicles, Dublin Bus has 1,200 while Bus Éireann has 700.
On the implications of criminality that underlie the Bill, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers, if they commit crimes, should face the same sanctions as people in transport. The people in transport have a proven record of surviving. They have approximately 44% of the receipts in the bus sector and 79% of business in the haulage sector. They are of professional competence, of good repute and of sound financial standing. If one is looking for people who infringe those criteria I could nominate accountants, bankers, the Department of Finance, builders who have built houses that fall down, and maths teachers who have no qualifications in mathematics, but to pick on this sector as not showing professional competence, good repute or sound financial standing, given its success against strong Government opposition over the past 70 years, is bizarre.
In the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act the fines are €1,500 and 12 months imprisonment. If the person operates a transport business the fines are increased to €500,000 and three years imprisonment. If we have problems with crime I would support increasing the first penalties but assuming that the transport sector, particularly the independent sector, requires special treatment because it is especially prone to criminality requires evidence.
Mr. Jimmy Farrelly carried out a report for the previous Minister, dated 12 June 2009, on a disputed licence in County Louth. He noted the apparent non-existence of any history of cases which were refused or revoked on the good repute consideration. He said that officials were also mindful of the need to band the constitutional right of an individual to earn a livelihood against the nature of any offence committed. A view has been taken during the years that the courts, in general, would not support the refusal of licences. There was a belief the refusal of licences would be overturned by the High Court. It appears it is not acceptable to commit an offence and then go on to become a road haulier or bus driver, but it does not matter if one becomes a banker, a builder, a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker.
Mr. Farrely recommended that a clerical officer deal with issues to do with good repute, that a higher executive officer deal with minor offences and that major offences be referred to headquarters from Loughrea to be dealt with by a principal officer or an assistant secretary. In his view, very few cases would arise in this category. He recommended that the Garda look at 10% of new applications and check 5% of licences after five years. If we have formed the view that road transport in the independent sector is riddled with criminals, evidence of this must be available, but that view is not supported by Mr. Farrely's report. I see this as a long standing prejudice on the part of the Department of Transport against anybody other than its own transport companies being allowed to operate.
If we are to impose new duties on persons who operate transport companies, we must also place a new duty on the Minister to reply to their applications. I know he has done much to correct the situation. Mr. Justice McMahon, in the Swords Express case in 2010, said the applicant, Swords Express, had been doubly disadvantaged by the way the Department had held on to his application and then leaked it to CIE in order that it could get in on the route. If there has to be a reply within 21 days, the Minister should have to reply to licence applications within three months. That is where there was impropriety in the Swords Express case and Mr. Justice McMahon was extremely critical of the conduct of the Department in dealing with the company in that regard. Many of the faults in this area lie with the Department, not the operators.
The section of EU law we are transposing into Irish law on the requirement that the Minister respond within three months should be included in this Bill. There is also a section of EU law that exempts slow moving traffic travelling under 40 km/h. If we are transposing EU law, let us transpose the bits that would benefit the consumer rather than those that impose yet more restrictions. There is much that is wrong with the Bill and I will be tabling amendments on Committee Stage.
I return to one of the judgments that was crucial in the taxi deregulation case. Mr. Justice Roderick Murphy said people had the right to enter a sector for which they had the skills and training and that the public had the right to avail of the services of such persons. In the case before us, the State had its own ideas on transport. It wanted monopolies and to assist the railways. However, the independent hauliers, despite all the obstacles put in their way, dominate 79% of the fleet and 72% of the freight business by being of good repute, having good financial standing and professional competence. For the Department even to hint, at this late stage, that the industry does not have these three characteristics reflects badly on it. That it is, yet again, asking the Oireachtas to meet December deadlines, as it did in the case of buses two years ago, is wrong. There needs to be a full evaluation. That is why I welcome what the Minister said. Evaluation is long overdue, but this is not it. If we can have entrepreneurship in this vital sector of the economy and do not criminalise it, we will be doing very well.
As previous speakers said, the Bill seems to have been hurried and rushed. However, I welcome the Minister's commitment to introduce more considered road transport legislation next year.
Road haulage is an important part of the economy. There are 25,000 large vehicles on the roads, operated by hauliers here and elsewhere in Europe. The number employed in the industry is significant. Senator Ned O'Sullivan who I hope will not cabotage any taxi drivers this evening has pointed out that there are approximately 50,000 employed in this sector. It is important that the industry is operated correctly and to the highest standards.
I welcome the three improvements outlined by the Minister. As the Bill deals with those who transport goods and people across Europe, it is only proper that those responsible for this carriage are, as the Bill states, of good repute.
Certain traffic convictions will allow for the refusal of a licence. This is only right, as a road safety measure. As many Senators know from travelling regularly on the roads, it is imperative that operators be safe, responsible and reliable. It is now in their hands to ensure their vehicles and drivers are up to scratch.
Senator Séan Barrett referred to the time allowed to respond to licence applications. Will the Minister confirm that the deadline of three months is stated in the Bill? It is my understanding that the Department will be required to reply to an applicant within three months, as I am sure the Minister will confirm.
Every year schools embark on European tours using Irish and European bus companies. Every parent in the country will rest easier in the knowledge that a convicted criminal will not be responsible for transporting their loved ones from Barcelona to Paris, for example.
I thank the Minister for his presentation and welcome the Bill.
I welcome the Minister and join previous speakers in welcoming the Road Transport Bill 2011. In so far as it deals with the character of licence holders and the people they employ, the Bill is similar to that applying to private security firms. Its purpose is to amend provisions included in the Road Transport Acts. It will give effect in primary legislation to a number of measures currently provided for in regulations but which will be affected by the coming into force of EU regulations. It will also make provision for amendments to the, so-called, good repute aspects of road transport.
I appreciate the intention of the Bill and the Minister in bringing it forward, but I also see the Bill's limitations. I appreciate the fact that the Minister intends to introduce a comprehensive road transport Bill. I hope that will happen in the coming year and look forward to hiim bringing forward these proposals. I hope also that many of the issues raised in the debate on this Bill, including those raised by Senator Séan Barrett, will be dealt with in the comprehensive road transport Bill at which the Minister is looking. The Bill provides for a number of housekeeping reforms in road transport. Therefore, I have little difficulty with the intentions behind the Bill.
As Deputy Shane Ross noted in the Dáil, this is an area in which we need further information and a greater awareness of what we are dealing with. A number of Members have made the point that there are 70,000 licensed operators and that 25,000 large vehicles associated with these operators are on the road. However, we do not have the full picture. How many unlicensed operators are there and how many vehicles are associated with them? Does the Minister have this information, or is it something he could bring back to the House? It may be that such information is impossible to get because such operators are under the radar. We need a full picture of what is happening.
Will the Minister clarify a number of points raised in the Dáil on the powers he will have? He will have the power to refuse licences and question convictions. We have a concern in this regard, especially where a licence is essential to a person's livelihood. Who will make the decision to refuse a licence? The Minister could consider alternative authorities which might be in a position to adjudicate on these matters and provide appropriate safeguards. This is very important.
The Minister will be aware two issues were raised in the Dáil by Sinn Féin and we believe these were not dealt with adequately. The first issue concerns the status of individuals who were released under licence under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. At least two Deputies who contributed to the debate could not, under this legislation, hold haulage licences. Many other Deputies, from a variety of parties, including one of the parties in Government, could find themselves in similar position. As the Minister knows, many former prisoners are teachers, lecturers, politicians or Ministers in the power-sharing Executive in the North. He knows that many individuals who have been involved in organisations that were involved in armed political struggles are now Ministers sitting at a Cabinet table.
Sinn Féin believes it is very important to distinguish between people with a criminal record and those who have been political prisoners. The majority of people on the island of Ireland voted for the Good Friday Agreement. They voted for prisoners to be released on licence under the terms of the agreement, to be released as political prisoners. I find it amazing that somebody can be a Deputy in the Lower House or a Minister in a power-sharing Executive yet cannot hold a haulage licence. Many of these people have doctorates, many are leaders in their communities and involved in community development work, many are lecturers or teachers and others are in different fields. As we know, political prisoners played a huge role not just in bringing about peace but in building and sustaining it. If we are to embrace all of the concepts of political conflict resolution, we must distinguish between people who were involved in criminal acts and people who were involved in acts for the purposes of a political struggle. That is our point.
There was significant heat in the debate which took place in the Dáil, but I hope it will not be similar here. I hope the Minister has had time to reflect on what was said in the Dáil and on the genuine issue we are raising. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot say we support the Good Friday Agreement, vote for that agreement - as did 90% of the people on this part of the island and over 70% of the people in the North - and say we are in favour of it, the peace process and the release of political prisoners by both the British and Irish Governments without differentiating between criminals and political prisoners. It would be wrong for the Minister not to make that differentiation. I hope the Minister will take on board the amendment we will table to deal with this issue and I look forward to his response. Unfortunately, despite the fact we support the Bill, if the Minister is not minded to support our amendment, we will be forced to vote against the Bill. As a party, Sinn Féin cannot stand over a situation where political prisoners are being prevented from taking up job opportunities in this sector.
I mentioned already the comprehensive Bill the Minister is considering with regard to road transport. I support the call made by Senator O'Sullivan to look also at taxi regulations and the taxi industry in that regard. The Minister may remember an RTE programme not so long ago that looked at the taxi industry and which raised many issues. The majority of taxi drivers are legal and do a good job, but there are issues in the industry. I hope we will look at similar provisions to those we are considering here with regard to haulage companies and consider bringing them in for the taxi industry. Many former prisoners are taxi drivers. How is it the case that it is all right to be a taxi driver but with this Bill the Minister is not in a position to differentiate between people who were convicted of crimes and political prisoners? I hope the Minister takes on board the amendment we will table in the spirit in which we will table it.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute on this Bill. We will have debate next year on a road transport Bill, but none the less this is important legislation to ensure the directive is in place by 4 December. I do not know where the fault lies with regard to bringing it forward so late, but I am sure the Seanad and committees can build on the work we are doing now on dealing with EU regulations and directives. This work will give an opportunity to both Houses to look at what is coming down the tracks, a facility we have not had previously. Until now, many directives have been nodded into place and the first we heard of them - perhaps we should have informed ourselves - was when they were presented as legislation, often in an emergency situation.
This legislation is important because we have so many road hauliers and transport operators. Not alone do they operate here, they also interact internationally and it is important their licences to operate are not impeded. Therefore, we must ensure the legislation is enacted speedily and is not stopped in its tracks. Our exports are very important. Figures from the Irish Exporters Association show exports were valued at €161 billion last year and these figures are increasing year on year. However, when we look at internal figures on the transport of goods and services, they have fallen on an all-island basis. The figures we have from the CSO show that last year there was a decrease of 50% and that overall figures since 2000 are down 34%. This is a concern.
It is important we support road hauliers and the transport sector, particularly when we have invested so much in our road network. Road haulage also provides a flexibility we do not get with rail transport operators. Road hauliers are more flexible and operate at all times, including at weekends and throughout the night as anybody who travels our roads at night sees. Hauliers have reacted speedily to changes in the economy and new developments in the road network. For example, we have seen large distribution centres established throughout the country specifically to supply supermarkets and retailers, and transport hauliers are a vital cog in this. I know we could debate these distribution centres as they affect other issues. None the less, road hauliers have been proactive in reacting to change and they provide a flexible and reliable service. I commend them on how they carry out their business.
This legislation should be welcomed, particularly as it will establish the good reputation of operators. This is important. Anybody who operates in the haulage business must welcome this as it will ensure that those who operate illegally and with unlicensed vehicles will be disciplined. Illegal operators can be fined and theses fines are now much higher than previously, up to €500,000 or three years in prison. This should act as a deterrent and provide comfort to those who have been operating legally within the system. In every operation there are always those who try to undermine it, cut corners and fail to comply with legislation. Therefore, it is good that through this legislation those of good reputation will have some standing. The Bill provides that the public can access the register of legal hauliers on the Internet. Up to now access to this register was restricted and only people who took the time to visit the Minister's office could view it. Now it will be accessible at all times on the Internet.
We must remember that this legislation is not all about road transport. It is also about the transport of passengers, which is a serious and onerous responsibility. We must ensure we have proper legislation, proper controls and a proper licensing system in place for such operators which may access the Continent and drive internationally. We must ensure we have a seamless system of standards. Therefore, this legislation and the directive to be put in place are very important.
We received correspondence recently from the Irish Road Haulage Association about washed diesel. It has been brought to my attention on a number of occasions and it has been raised at various meetings we have attended. The Irish Road Haulage Association recently described it as being at epidemic levels. Washed diesel now accounts for almost 12% of the road diesel market with an estimated loss of €155 million per annum to the Irish economy. The solution put forward is for a one-colour diesel model to be implemented. If combined with a fuel rebate system, it would allow legitimate users of marked diesel claim a rebate based on usage. Something must be done about it. We hear about it anecdotally and occasionally we hear of raids by customs officers. Given that it is such a loss to the economy at a time when increases in excise duties have been mooted, it should be tackled. Reasonable proposals have been put forward and they should be considered.
I refer to road tolls and the effect they will have on transport and trade. We discussed this before and, if I may be parochial, I am particularly concerned about the Lee tunnel in Cork which has been in place for quite a number of years. It has not been tolled but I would be interested if the Minister has any information on the contribution EU funds made to the tunnel. I am not sure if it was built using cohesion funding but it was built with funding from the EU taxpayer, including our own taxpayers' money. Can the National Roads Authority introduce a toll at this stage, in particular since the tunnel is used for economic activity in the city, both north and south? It is not for people bypassing the city. Tolls have implications for road transport costs. From a competitive point of view, tolls increase costs for exports or products being sent abroad.
I welcome the Minister. I agree with this Bill. Despite the urgency with which it must be passed - I note Senator Barrett's comments and agree with him to a point - I welcome the fact that the Minister is considering introducing more detailed legislation next year. We hope many of the amendments Senator Barrett proposes to table tomorrow will be included in that. We must be reasonable in this House.
Two aspects of this Bill strike me as important. I refer to expanding the relevant offences in the applicant for a road haulage operators' licence to include a broader range of offences. These included drug trafficking as well as other serious convictions. My understanding is that an offence under the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 has been added on the advice of the Attorney General's office, which is a sensible addition. It is important to note that the kinds of offences about which we are talking are very serious ones. Somebody with a minor criminal record will not be precluded from being a road haulier. That is not the intention of the Bill and we should not get carried away with this kind of thought.
The list of positions to which the offences apply can now include directors of organisations, business partners and drivers in passenger transport operations. This is a really good idea in so far as we need to keep these serious criminals out of the industry or, as Senator Heffernan said, prohibit them from carrying children, and so on.
I welcome the Bill and compliment the Minister and his Department on their work.
I thank Senators for their contributions and co-operation in getting this Bill passed. As is often the case, better points were raised in this House than perhaps in the other one. The advantage of fewer speakers always helps a little bit. Senator O'Sullivan said this was rushed legislation. It is not really rushed. It is sound and I have every confidence in the Dáil and the Seanad identifying any flaws which may be in it as part of the parliamentary and scrutiny process. If any flaws arise at a later stage, I will share responsibility for that with the good Members of this House and the other one.
Admittedly, it is urgent legislation and I apologise to this House for introducing the Bill in this way without giving it the notice and respect it deserves in that regard. I am also conscious that it is the second time in eight months that I have come to this House and the other one with legislation which had to be brought in before a particular deadline. I am not very happy about that. In less than ten months, I have asked for an earlier signature motion on two occasions. It is not always the fault of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. Sometimes the Attorney General's advice comes at a late stage and sometimes the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel is not able to get things done in time. However, I have expressed my concerns about that to my Secretary General and officials and it is my intention that when I come back to the House with road transport or road traffic legislation, it will be comprehensive, well thought out after wide consultation and not a piece of a Bill which must be brought in because it could not be done in time or for some other reason.
In response to Senator O'Sullivan, this relates to somebody who has a conviction for a serious crime. That person's requirement is only to inform the Minister. It does not automatically ban anyone who is guilty of these convictions from getting a passenger transport or road haulage licence. The Minister needs to take it into account in making the decision but there is not an automatic ban. The fine is €500,000, which is a maximum one. When levying fines, judges will perhaps levy fines much lower than that. The current maximum is just over €6,000 and I think we all agree that is too low. We set a very high bar here to give the Judiciary substantial discretion in what fines it may levy. I guess we are also providing for hyper-inflation. Should that occur in the next few years, we will not need to come back to amend this legislation.
I confirm to Senator O'Sullivan that the transport of agricultural produce, such as turf, milk and so on, is still exempt and it is stated in other legislation, so I do not need to restate it in this Bill. Again, it shows the advantage of having consolidated road transport legislation which would be easy for people to use and would cover all the exemptions in one place instead of in different places as is the case now.
In regard to transport operators acting on their own account, that is not regulated at the moment and, therefore, is not covered by this Bill. I refer, for example, to a company like Tesco which does its own distribution. In the North, that is now falling under regulation and we may consider a permit system in the future. The RSA is looking at that but for now, we do not propose to regulate operators that transport their own goods and do not charge for it. It is different when one is carrying one's own goods and one is not charging for it or looking for reward.
In regard to cabotage, quite frankly, the system is daft. I only learned about it in recent times and it is really a daft system. We have a single European market and I cannot understand why we do not have a single market in transport. If I want to fly an aeroplane, we have open skies but one cannot do that in haulage for some reason which I do not understand. The provision for cabotage issues is included in EU regulation No. 1072 which has direct application. I will make necessary national regulations this week to set out the offences and penalties and I will set a maximum penalty of €500,000 for conviction or indictment with regard to cabotage offences. The cabotage provisions themselves cannot be changed as they are set out in EU legislation. The application of those regulations in any member state is a matter for that state.
I am aware of the desire of the industry for clarity in regard to cabotage, in particular in the UK. My Department has been engaged in bilateral discussions with the UK authorities to see if guidelines on the application of cabotage can be put together for the information of operators.
The House might be interested to know that the opening up of the national and international markets is a European Commission policy under its transport White Paper for 2011 to 2020. I support this objective and, if I am still in office, I hope to be able to make progress on this issue as President of the transport Council in 2013.
Taxi regulation is a matter for the Minister of State, Deputy Kelly. It is being reviewed and I expect he will propose legislative changes in the Houses in due course.
Tax and excise are matters for the Minister for Finance. He is aware of my views on further taxes and excises on petrol and diesel. From a public transport point of view, the cloud has a silver lining. Although increased excises and taxes on fuel increase costs for CIE and private operators, they encourage more people to use public transport. This must be borne in mind, given that transport is the second largest contributor of CO2 emissions, contrary to many Opposition Senators' claims that it is the largest.
Senator O'Neill discussed toll evasion by hauliers. While it occurs, judging the level is difficult and I have seen no good research that has been able to assess the scale. Since most toll plazas are contracted public private partnerships, PPPs, neither I nor the National Roads Authority, NRA, have the discretion to vary the tolls. Rather, they are varied in line with inflation. In the long term, a vignette system would be the best, whereby a haulier would buy a pass and be able to use motorways freely for a year or however long. Such a system would be complicated, though, as we would need to renegotiate agreements with the PPP operators. Many of them are losing money and would love an opportunity to re-open negotiations, but these would be for their benefit and not necessarily the benefit of motorists or taxpayers.
It is important to point out to the sector that heavy goods vehicles, HGVs, do more damage to road surfaces than the average person in a small car. They pay the highest tolls to contribute their share to roads' upkeep.
Senator Barrett claimed that the sector was being picked on, but that is not the case. The vast majority of hauliers, road transport operators and passenger operators are of good repute. However, there is a problem with compliance among private and State operators in many parts of the sector. The industry is being licensed and regulated and is not being picked on. We are aiming for good repute, which is covered in the regulations.
The Senator made a valid point about butchers, bankers and other professionals who either do not need to be licensed or do not need to jump through hoops like these. Issues of proportionality must be taken into account during the full review of the legislation and in future legislation. However, many of the Bill's provisions were included for a reason. For example, there is an obvious reason one would not want to give a haulier a licence if he or she had a conviction for drug smuggling or human trafficking. If the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport or another body gave a convicted drug smuggler or human trafficker a licence, it would find itself in a difficult position if the person repeated those acts. A similar issue arises in respect of passenger transport operators. If someone was a convicted paedophile, rapist or murderer, questions would be asked if a Department or Government body gave him or her a licence to drive people at night, as the person would be exposed to vulnerable people on their own.
The situation is not the same as that of a butcher or candlestick maker. Particular issues relate to this industry. However, the Senator's general point was valid and we must ensure that the licensing requirements applied to the sector in future are proportionate and reasonable and that we are not merely devising a list of serious convictions for the sake of it, in that they must be relevant.
The licensing, good repute arrangements and enforcement provisions apply equally to CIE companies as they do to private operators. Under current regulations, the Department is required to reply within three months to an application for a licence.
Regarding Senator Cullinane's comments, I do not wish to repeat last week's debate in the Dáil. The requirement under the Bill is for the Minister to be informed of an applicant's convictions. It does not require the Minister to refuse a licence. Anyone can appeal a decision to the District Court. Anyone who has been released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement can inform the Minister of the former's conviction for money laundering or murder and release under the agreement. The Minister would be in a position to take that information into account. Irrespective of whether the Senator likes it, though, it is a fact that those released under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement were released on licence. They are still convicted criminals. Their convictions are not spent and have not been expunged by the agreement. If a decision is made to expunge their convictions, it should not be done under this legislation. Rather, it would be a broader policy decision for a Government to make. Confession comes before absolution. When we still hear crimes such as murder, manslaughter, money laundering, fraud, arson and so on being described as politically motivated, there is still a little further to go in terms of confession before we can reach the point of absolution.
Regarding Senator Clune's remarks, I do not want to comment too much on tolls at this point. We are in the middle of a budgetary process and nothing is fully decided. I do not know what EU funds were spent on the Lee tunnel, but this matter is not necessarily relevant. Given that we toll other roads that received money from the Structural Funds, the Lee tunnel would not be precluded, but no decisions have been made. In making decisions, I will be conscious that there are ways other than tolls to raise revenue. Given the increase in VAT and the potential increases in carbon tax and excise rates in the forthcoming budget, slapping on toll increases as well might be too much.
The Bill addresses a number of urgent items for reasons connected with EU legislation. I intend to review road transport legislation from a broader perspective. I hope to be in a positive to introduce a comprehensive road transport Bill next year to replace the existing Acts and to set the direction for road transport policy in the coming years.