Tuesday, 7 October 2014
Vehicle Clamping Bill 2014: Second Stage
I would like to thank the Seanad for the opportunity to introduce the Vehicle Clamping Bill 2014. The Bill addresses the commitment in the programme for Government to legislate to regulate clamping. The impetus for this commitment stems principally from public concerns in regard to the activity of some clamping operators and the extent to which clamping may be carried out in a less than fair manner, with no obvious consistent or transparent recourse to appeal against perceived abuses. The areas of greatest public concern relate to the level and variation in clamp release charges currently applied, the lack of a clearly identifiable and accessible clamping appeals process and the oftentimes absence of appropriate information signage for motorists.
Currently, section 101B of the Road Traffic Act 1961, as amended, provides for the clamping and-or relocation of vehicles illegally parked on a public road by either a member of An Garda Síochána, a person appointed in writing by a local authority or a traffic warden. However, there is currently no regulation of clamping activities carried out on private land. The practice of clamping or relocating vehicles on private property does not come within the scope or the spirit of road traffic legislation. Such legislation tends to relate only to activities on public roads.
The legal issues surrounding the situation whereby a clamp is placed on a vehicle in circumstances other than those provided for in existing legislation relating to the public road and certain State agencies, primarily relates to the manner of the contract between the owner of the land or car park and the car driver or owner. However, in such latter circumstances, no account is taken of the need to regulate clamping activities in the broader public interest, nor do such circumstances carry with them the same transparent safeguards for members of the public as apply to clamping activities currently carried out under statute.
It is, therefore, appropriate that clarity be given by the Oireachtas to this situation in order to protect the rights of both citizens and property owners alike in regard to an activity which has become an increasing feature of urban life in Ireland. It is in this context that my predecessor as Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, presented a discussion document to the then Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Transport, Culture and the Gaeltacht in December 2011, in which he outlined the principal issues to be addressed, together with proposals on the shape of appropriate legislation, and invited the committee's views. The committee responded in a comprehensive report which contained a number of recommendations, the majority of which have been taken into account in this Bill.
The discussion document presented to the committee outlined a number of options by which the issues of public concern in regard to clamping might best be addressed. These options included: banning clamping; whether or not proposed legislation should be confined to clamping activities on private property only or to both private and public property; or allowing clamping operators to self-regulate. The document also outlined how proposed regulation of clamping activities might be applied. For example, in introducing legislation, should the primary focus be on those individuals or companies undertaking the clamping activity or, alternatively, should the circumstances and requirements for the application of a clamp to a vehicle be regulated instead? The issue of whether or not the related activity of towing should be regulated was also considered. The broader issues of who might regulate, how regulation might be funded, what requirements should be adhered to before clamping a vehicle, the setting of maximum clamp release charges, the provision of an independent appeals process and other relevant matters were also outlined for the committee's consideration.
The joint Oireachtas committee invited a number of representative stakeholders to make presentations to it or to submit written submissions for its consideration. The range of stakeholders attending those hearings or making submissions to the committee included; local authorities; representative bodies from that sector; AA Ireland; representatives of the clamping industry; business organisations such as Chambers Ireland and Retail Excellence Ireland; the Irish Patients' Association; Dublin City Council's independent parking appeals officer; the Irish Property and Facility Management Association; officials from my Department; and other interested parties.
These hearings and submissions raised some important and interesting matters, and after due consideration the committee formed the view, as part of the options for reform, that any legislative proposals in regard to clamping should ensure harmonisation regarding the processes and procedures involved, regardless of where clamping takes place, be it on public roads or private property. Most of the core suggestions arising from the main areas of concern identified by the committee have been provided for in one form or another within the Bill. One of the long-standing issues raised by Members of the Seanad and Dáil is the role of committees in the drafting of legislation and how Members' and stakeholders' expertise and input can best be harnessed. This legislation provides an example of how many Members contributed to the drafting of the Bill. They provided input on the heads of the Bill and a broad variety of people involved in the industry had an opportunity to make their views known. This process had a substantive impact on the nature of the Bill and its drafting, and I thank all those who took the time to participate in that process.
Particular core matters dealt with in the Bill are the designation of the National Transport Authority as regulator of clamping activities; the setting of maximum permissible clamp release charges on private lands; the establishment of a two-tier appeals process; an obligation to provide clear and prominent signage in areas where clamping is operated; the establishment of codes of practice to provide practical guidance regarding compliance with regulatory requirements; regulating the means of identification to be carried, displayed and presented by clamping operatives; and the setting of appropriate penalties for breaching provisions of the Bill or regulations made under it.
The Bill does not provide for the registration and licensing of clamping operators and the associated vetting of staff employed by clamping operators. Although the provision of such measures was outlined in the general scheme of Bill, after detailed consideration of the issues involved, including extensive consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, these provisions are not included in the Bill I am presenting today. A compulsory licensing and registration regime for clamping operators, complete with the associated requirements and stipulations attaching to such a regime, would not, in terms of cost and practical effectiveness, represent the most effective manner of addressing the issues of public concern which this Bill seeks to address.
In the final analysis, the introduction of a statutory licensing regime was deemed to be excessive and too costly to implement for the taxpayer and clamping operators alike. Due to the relatively small number of sizeable parking enforcement or clamping operators in existence, the public would have been hit on the double for the establishment of such a regime. It would have ended up subsidising what may have been an economically unsustainable licensing regime, while at the same time having to pay increased clamp release charges imposed by clamping operators who chose as part of their business model to increase such charges to offset licensing fees imposed by the State. Also, such a regime, by its very nature, would undoubtedly have focused exclusively on clamping operators. This would have presented difficulties in making provision for those individuals who, of their own accord and without contracting the services of a clamping operator, choose to clamp vehicles on their own private property.
Taking cognisance of all these very real and pertinent considerations, we decided that the issues arising would be more appropriately addressed through the statutory regulation of clamping activities, irrespective of the location in which they are carried out.
I stress to Senators that this is a core decision which permeates the Bill, influenced its drafting and will inform its implementation. I refer to the point of focusing on the actual activity of clamping and how it is done, regardless of whether it takes place on public or private land. In choosing to regulate the activity of clamping rather than licensing the person or company carrying out the activity, the provisions of the Bill will cater for all scenarios in which a vehicle is clamped whether by a local authority, individual or contracting party such as a clamping operator on public or private land. As a consequence of putting the regulatory focus of the Bill on the activity of clamping, we will have far greater breadth of coverage in terms of who does the clamping and the location in which it is carried out.
The Bill recognises the fundamental importance of regulating these activities so that issues of public concern can be addressed. It provides for the statutory regulation of clamping activities, irrespective of location. Corresponding sanctions for the beach of the regulations are also being provided for. The Bill also contains enforcement powers including powers to prosecute in relation to non-compliance with the provisions of the Bill or a regulation made under it. In policy terms, it is not the aim of the Bill to determine in what places clamping should or should not take place, nor does it set out to decide parking policy, which is an objective of either local authorities or those who own, control or regulate the private property which is included within the coverage of the Bill. Bodies responsible for areas of parking - be they local authorities in respect of public roads, State agencies in respect of parking areas or owners of private land - will continue to determine parking policy and appropriate parking controls. The Bill provides that if clamping is used as a means of clamping control, the legislation must be complied with.
It is entirely reasonable for landowners to be able to deal in a fair and cost-effective manner with nuisance parking. For example, the parking of cars all day at a shopping centre is to the obvious disadvantage of other customers. At an apartment complex, residents may be inconvenienced. While the owners or managers involved should have the right to take reasonable action, the manner in which the clamping activities are carried out must be regulated. There is a clear need to establish broad rules governing these activities and it is the manner in which these rules can be formulated which has required detailed consideration.
It is also self-evident that local authorities have a responsibility to ensure effective traffic management in towns and cities as well as in relation to the corresponding utilisation of finite parking resources on the public road. However, while the use of clamping as a parking enforcement mechanism is highly effective, the rights of landowners and the responsibilities of the State must not be exercised to the detriment of the individual motorist. These competing rights and responsibilities must at all times be exercised in the interests of both citizens' rights and the good of society as a whole. It is a balancing act that much legislation has to walk. It is particularly important in respect of the Bill given the focus on the activity and the objective that it be regulated regardless of where it takes place. Bearing these issues in mind, I propose in the Bill to regulate clamping wherever it takes place.
Irrespective of where clamping is carried out, the Bill will provide for its regulation in a non-discriminatory and proportionate manner across the public and private sectors. In essence, the Bill aims to provide a balanced regulatory framework within which legitimate clamping operators may operate but which also protects motorists from any disreputable practices.
As well as regulating clamping activities, the role and responsibilities of those persons or bodies that engage clamping operators are addressed. Under the Bill, landowners or persons responsible for places in which clamping is operated will be obliged to provide appropriate signage in accordance with regulatory requirements, as well as providing for a statutory first stage appeals process.
I will now give a broad outline of the main provisions of the Bill which is in six Parts. Part 1 deals with technical matters such as the Short Title and commencement, definitions of frequently used terms, the laying of regulations and orders and matters relating to regulations made by the NTA. It also allows for further places where clamping is carried out under statute to be brought within the ambit of the Bill. This latter provision is noteworthy in that it acknowledges the legal delineation, under which clamping has been carried out in Ireland for a number of years. In regulating clamping activities in a non-discriminatory manner across both the public and private spectrum, for legal reasons, the Bill distinguishes between those places where clamping takes place under an existing enactment, referred to in the Bill as ''statutory clamping places", and all other places which are referred to as "non-statutory clamping places". Examples of "statutory clamping places" include the public road and parking areas operated by State bodies such as CIE, the Railway Procurement Agency and harbour companies. "Non-statutory clamping places", in the main, refers to private land or car parks in places such as shopping centres, sports venues and so on. This distinction also recognises the legal difference between instances of unlawful parking on the public road and certain State lands as opposed to wrongful parking which may occur on private property where certain parking terms and conditions may not have been complied with.
Part 2 provides for many of the recommendations suggested by the joint Oireachtas committee relating to the regulation of clamping activities which, in respect of private property, is currently unregulated. I am confident that the specific activities regulated for in this Part of the Bill address the regulatory lacuna heretofore in respect of clamping activities on private land. Wherever clamping activities are carried out - on the public road, land belonging to or operated by a statutory body or private property - such activities must be carried out in accordance with the provisions of the Bill. Specifically, this Part confers on the NTA the two central functions of regulating clamping activities and providing for a complaints and appeals procedure.
When it comes to clamping, the source of greatest annoyance and disquiet for the motoring public is the variation in and inconsistent clamp release charges being applied in privately owned car parks. Under section 14 of the Bill, the NTA will be conferred with regulatory powers to set the maximum clamp release and vehicle relocation charge. Under this section, the NTA will be able to prescribe the maximum clamp release and vehicle relocation charge that may be charged in non-statutory clamping places such as private car parks and car parks associated with shopping centres, retail parks, sports stadia and so forth. Where no maximum charges stand prescribed by the NTA, the Bill provides that the clamp release charge will be €100 and the vehicle relocation charge, €50. A person who imposes or attempts to impose clamp release or vehicle relocation charges greater than the set maximum charges will commit an offence and be liable on summary conviction to a class B fine, a fine of up to €4,000. In statutory clamping places such as at State airports and railway stations the bodies responsible will be obliged to have regard to the recommendations made by the NTA in respect of such charges. The Minister, after consultation with both the Minister for Justice and Equality and the NTA, may prescribe clamp release charges on the public road.
Another issue of public contention is the reported absence of appropriate and prominently displayed advisory signage warning motorists of clamping activities and the parking terms and conditions in areas in which clamping is in operation.
Under section 10, persons responsible for enforcing the law or rules applicable to parking in a place where clamping is operated, referred to in the Bill as "parking controllers", will be obliged to provide prominent regulatory advisory signage, which clearly indicates that clamping activities are in operation and detailing the clamp release and vehicle relocation charges applying. A parking controller who fails to provide such signage commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a class C fine, namely, a fine of up to €2,500. Other than on the public road, where the Minister will retain responsibility for regulatory signage under section 95 of the Road Traffic Act 1961, the NTA may make regulations with respect to clamping signage, including their location, information content, dimensions and design and symbols to be displayed, as well as the number of signs to be provided in a particular place.
The Bill also makes provision to enable the NTA to regulate the physical processes involved in clamping. The principal day-to-day clamping processes that may be regulated include: the time period that shall elapse before a vehicle may be clamped; the clamp release time after payment of the appropriate charge; the means of identification of clamping operators; the form of clamping notice to be affixed to a clamped vehicle; the methods of payment of the clamp release charge; and the records to be kept in respect of such activities.
In this regard, the NTA may establish codes of practice under this Part for the purposes of providing practical guidance on clamping matters. It is envisaged that standards relating to general behaviour, performance of duties and the conduct of clamping operators in respect of the carrying out of clamping activities and their interface with the public will be at the centre of such codes of practice. Standards may be established regarding the supervision by parking controllers of contracted clamping operators in respect of clamping activities operated on their behalf. The guiding principle in the establishment of codes of practice will be to assist parking controllers in both the public and private sectors, as well as clamping operators, in properly managing the day-to-day best practice operation of clamping activities in the public interest.
This Part provides an exemption for ambulances, fire brigade vehicles or any vehicle being used by a member of An Garda Síochána or the Defence Forces in the performance of his or her duties from being clamped or relocated. A vehicle displaying a disabled parking permit will be exempted from being clamped in any place where clamping is specifically legislated for under an enactment.
Part 3 makes provision for the establishment of a complaints procedure to address issues of perceived misconduct by clamping operators in the discharge of their duties, as well as providing for a two-tier appeals process to hear appeals against incidents of clamping or vehicle relocation. The absence of a fair and transparent means of redress for motorists in instances of clamping is an issue that has also raised widespread public concern. I have been clamped and I appealed the clamping. The appeals process varies among clamping operators because it is administered by them. In contrast to appealing a parking fine or parking charge with a local authority for which a clear process is laid down, when one is dealing with a private company and raising an issue about which one feels strongly, it is sometimes not clear how it should be dealt with. The introduction of this provision will benefit not only those making appeals but also those working in the clamping industry because they have a right to ensure they can carry out their job to the best of their ability and that the process is well regulated with appeals against them conducted in an impartial manner. Part 3 seeks to address this issue. Although some clamping operators have in place appeals processes to cater for such instances on private land, there is an inconsistency of approach that needs to be addressed.
Under the Bill’s provisions, a person whose vehicle has been clamped or relocated may appeal, in the first instance, to the parking controller responsible for enforcement of the parking rules within that place. Where the person is not satisfied with a determination made at this stage, he or she may lodge a second stage appeal to an independent clamping appeals officer appointed by the NTA.
The statutory procedures underpinning both of these stages of appeal, as well as the timelines for receipt of a determination on each, are set out in sections 18 to 21, inclusive. The two tier appeals process harnesses the roles and responsibilities of those persons or bodies that engage clamping operators. Generally, clamping operators are the contracted agents of principals such as retailers, hospitals and apartment management companies. It is only right such principals play their part in ensuring motorists have access to a fair and easily accessible first stage of appeal. A parking controller who fails to put appeal procedures in place will have committed an offence and will be liable, on summary conviction, to a class B fine, namely, a fine not exceeding €4,000.
Also, in line with recommendations made by the Oireachtas transport committee, the Bill gives the NTA the power to establish a procedure to consider complaints from members of the public concerning the discharge by parking controllers of their responsibilities, as well as the conduct and behaviour of clamping operators.
Part 4 provides the NTA with the necessary legislative powers to enforce compliance with the provisions and regulations made under the legislation. In particular, this Part makes provision for the appointment of authorised persons by the NTA and the specifying of their powers of investigation. Where it is considered that a parking controller or clamping operator is not complying with the Bill, clamping regulations or a code of practice, the NTA may direct such individuals to comply in accordance with any direction issued by the authority. Where the NTA, having considered representations made to it by a parking controller or clamping operator, is still of the view that there is non-compliance with a direction given, it may apply to the Circuit Court for an order directing such compliance.
Part 5 provides for the application of equivalent regulatory provisions within the legislation to the public road. This is in line with the commitment to ensure the regulation of clamping activities is harmonised across all areas. In fulfilment of this objective on the public road, section 30 substitutes a new section for section 101B of the Road Traffic Act 1961. This section provides for the clamping and removal of illegally parked vehicles on the public road, as well as for the prescribing of clamp release charges. I will retain my ministerial function in the prescription of such charges, but I will consult both the Minister for Justice and Equality and the NTA before prescribing any such charge. This section also amends the informational requirements of the notice to be affixed to clamped vehicles, particularly in giving details of the two tier appeals process operated under the Bill.
Part 6 provides for the amendment of various existing statutory provisions relating to the clamping of vehicles on land belonging to or occupied by CIE, the Railway Procurement Agency, State airports and harbours. The intention of these amendments is to bring uniformity to existing statutory provisions.
The Bill enjoyed an input from Members through the Oireachtas committee process. As a result, it has been much improved. An important element of the legislation is the focus it will place on the regulation of clamping activity. It will have as broad an implementation as possible, with a specific focus on parking on public and private lands. The Bill is proportionate, responding to a legitimate public concern on behalf of motorists, while also recognising the needs of other stakeholders.
A Bill such as this is also in the long-term interests of people who are working in the clamping industry because we all know that a regulated industry is one that has the best chance of being more sustainable in the long run.
I welcome the Minister to the House and compliment him on bringing forward this legislation which Fianna Fáil fully supports. The area of clamping, as the Minister has outlined, has been particularly contentious for many years, not only in respect of the provisions of this Bill, which is about private parking and in some instances public parking, but those on public roads. I was interested to hear the Minister concede that he had been clamped. I too have been clamped.
I am glad to have the opportunity to raise it. In my case, I was going to the cinema in Parnell Street. I parked on Parnell Street, having looked at the signs which indicated that free parking was allowed after 8 p.m., in other words that the parking fees were suspended at 8 p.m. When I came back to my car later that night after the movie, I was amazed to discover I was clamped. While I went through the process, as the Minister did, I was curious as the sign indicated that parking fees were suspended at 8 p.m. However, I was told that lasted only for half an hour and that from 8.30 p.m. onwards parking was prohibited. That happened to me again in Parnell Street. I confess I was at fault, purely through ignorance, as I was running late. I do not go back to Cineworld any more unless I take public transport.
I cannot remember what it was. I did something I would never do, namely, I parked in a disabled space, the only one available, at 9 p.m. I did it, purely through ignorance, on the basis that I assumed it was a free for all after 8 p.m. At 10 p.m. I discovered I was clamped which meant that the clamping operators were circulating the area. Later I discovered that one of the areas in Dublin that is most vulnerable for motorists to clamping is Parnell Street. Why is Parnell Street so vulnerable for motorists? I did not park on the main road.
This happened at 9 p.m. By my own mental process, I assumed it did not operate after a certain time of day. Apart from that I was concerned about the Parnell Street issue. Perhaps the Minister would look at it. I do not mean he should be micro managing but if it is happening in Parnell Street is it happening in other places? Why is it that Parnell Street is one of the areas in the city with the highest rate of clamping? I concur with the Minister that this was a wonderful process which came through the joint committee. Increasingly, the Government has been using the committee process rather than just providing heads of Bills. It was excellent and the Minister paid tribute to that.
However, I am somewhat disappointed in one regard. In his contribution the Minister said:
In policy terms, it is not the aim of this Bill to determine in what places clamping should or should not take place. Neither does it set out to decide parking policy.I have a real problem with this because, as the Minister is aware, there has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the charges imposed at hospital carparks and people who have been clamped and continue to be clamped in hospital carparks, without any regard whatsoever for the context or circumstances in which the owners of that car may have found themselves in default of the policy of the hospital relating to parking. It is most unfair, in fact it is bordering on the inhumane, because the chances are that the reason the car ended up exceeding the time limit had probably to do with something that took place inside the hospital. I do not think people deliberately exceed the time limit, once they go into a hospital carpark and pay a charge, which most people do, and in the context of clamping that is what happens. Surely there should be some regulation in that area because it seems, under the provisions of the Bill, that hospitals can continue to operate carte blanchein any way they wish relating to parking policy.
For a start, the charges are unfair and really excessive relative to public roads. The policy of clamping cars in hospital carparks should be re-examined also. In that context, I was disappointed that section 9 of the Bill provides for the National Transport Authority to make regulations. Nowhere does it say, however, what the charges will be. That does not allow Members of the Oireachtas to debate this matter. The chances are that it will come through a statutory instrument, which will not allow for any debate.
When I read the explanatory memorandum I expected it to provide details of the period of time that would expire after the detection of the wrongful or unlawful parking of a vehicle in a clamping place before a clamp may be fixed to the vehicle or a vehicle may be relocated. I am taking that one, apart from all the other subsections included in the large section 9. I would like to have known what the time limit is once somebody defaults, given the examples I cited. There is nothing to indicate what the times are.
I refer to the infamous case of the journalist, John Waters, in Dún Laoghaire. He was charged with exceeding the parking time but he argued that he thought he had 15 minutes' grace. I did not know there was such a thing. There may be nothing in law to indicate such a period of grace, whereas in practice there could be. If it is not in the law, similarly it applies to this section because I will leave this debate without any knowledge whatsoever of the time limits involve from the time one defaults to when the clamping operators can move in. That is critical. I appreciate that Bills of this nature tend to be worded like this. The Minister will more than likely reply by stating that is the way the process works. He will say that the broad structure and aims of the Bill are presented here, while the detail follows later. I have always believed, however, that that is an inherent flaw in our parliamentary system because it does not give Oireachtas Members the right to question.
Perhaps the Minister can clarify how section 9 will be implemented by his Department, given that this power is being handed over to the NTA. The NTA will then publish the data outside the political framework and we will not have any opportunity to debate whether or not the system is fair. Presumably the Minister will give some direction to the NTA in this regard because the authority comes under his brief. The NTA will therefore not act autonomously, although the Bill may give it that autonomy. If it does not, however, and if the Minister has any say in the matter, I plead with him to act in order to minimise the discomfort, inconvenience and annoyance felt by the general public. A fair time should be given. It could be five minutes but some period of grace should be afforded before clampers can move in to legally clamp a car.
I wanted to mention other things but I appreciate that I have run out of time. We will get a chance to discuss them in more detail on Committee Stage. In his introductory remarks, the Minister said:
It is entirely reasonable that landowners need to be able to deal in a fair and cost-effective manner with nuisance parking. For example, in relation to the parking of cars all day in a shopping centre to the obvious disadvantage of other customers, or in apartment complexes to the inconvenience of residents, the owners or managers involved should have the right to take reasonable action.That is a complex area. For example, supermarkets would be reluctant to follow up prosecutions because they may feel they might lose customers. On the other hand, they have a legitimate point in that some people park there. At weekends, particularly on Sundays when a large number of GAA and soccer matches occur across the country, many towns and villages which do not have sufficient parking facilities for large games, use these carparks. In the context of parking policy, I hope they will operate fairly and reasonably in this regard.
I hope this Bill will not tighten the law to the extent that people coming out of a sporting event might find their car clamped. Some people might say that the law now gives us the right to do this.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, to the House.
In my experience, if one sees a clamped car at the side of the road one has a certain sympathy for the driver, whereas a parking ticket does not evoke the same sympathy. I note with interest that the only local authority operating a clamping system is Dublin City Council. For example, Galway City Council and Galway County Council abolished the use of clamping in 2007 as did Cork City Council in 2012 because it was costing €1 million a year to administer the system and it was only taking in €750,000 in fines. I agree that Dublin is a different beast and a bigger city, but I question the need for a clamping system. Approximately 90,000 to 100,000 cars are clamped nationally every year, while a total of 150 cars are clamped in Dublin every day. Approximately 45% to 50% of cars clamped in the country are clamped on private property. This is why regulation is needed and I welcome the Bill. We have all heard the horror stories, and people will always tell one the worst thing that has happened to them.
Certain categories of private property, such as supermarkets and hotel car parks, are entitled to protect their car parking spaces because such spaces are their means of income and their trade can be affected if the parking spaces are used by those who are not visiting their premises. The Bill provides for a maximum charge, which will be regulated. The Bill provides for regulation rather than licensing, which would not be viable in this country.
Senator Mooney raised points that I had intended to raise. When will the National Transport Authority provide the regulations as proposed in section 9 of the Bill?
The Minister referred in his opening remarks to the time allowed before a car is unclamped. A customer charter will be required. If my car is clamped I contact the company and I give them my credit card details over the phone and the clampers return to unlock my car. The customer charter should provide that the clampers must return to release a car within a set period of time after the fine is paid. I have heard about people who have paid the fine and are left waiting for release for an hour, or an hour and a half if the clampers are busy. It is a contentious issue, and the nature of the job means that clampers are often in conflict with an individual who may be annoyed at the clamping or the delay. Members of the public have complained about the manner in which the clamping personnel deal with them.
Senator Mooney referred to private property such as supermarket and hotel car parks, and I would include hospital car parks. Most hospitals are public institutions, and some leeway needs to be shown with regard to parking in hospital car parks. There may be extenuating circumstances for a person whose car has exceeded its time limit at a parking space, or a car may have been abandoned in a certain spot because of a medical emergency.
The Bill provides for an appeals process. An appeal can be made to the clamping service in the first instance and the NTA will appoint an individual to examine the appeal if the outcome is unsatisfactory. A person whose car is clamped will be required to pay the fine on the spot but may win the appeal. The regulations need to include a customer charter.
I have a query about relocation of clamped vehicles. I do not have a figure for the number of cars towed away in Dublin on a daily or weekly basis.
I know somebody who had a car towed away on a Sunday a few years ago while he was at a GAA match. It was a Tipperary man, and I am not too sorry for him because of the local rivalry between Kilkenny and Tipperary. It was three hours later before he got the car back.
Private companies should not have the ability to tow away somebody's car. The Garda Síochána should be the only people involved in towing away cars in that they must give the instruction for the car to be towed. One can come back to find that one's car is gone. I do not know who gives notice that one's car has been towed. It is important that gardaí have an input into the relocation of a car, which can take a long time to have released.
Outside Dublin the majority of clamping on private property is done by private security operators. I see it in certain carparks in Kilkenny where a private security company comes in and clamps cars if the owner of that property is deemed to have parked illegally. It is important, in respect of section 9 of the Bill, that the regulations indicate how much time has to elapse before a clamper can be called in because there have been so-called cowboy operators who know they have people in a catch-22 situation in that if one's car is clamped one cannot move until the fee they ask for is paid and the car released. It is important that this regulation is introduced and that everything is synchronised in that regard.
I welcome the Minister and I welcome the Bill because it is important that we have equality with regard to all clamping operations in the country. It may not be anything to do with him but the Minister might indicate to the House if Dublin City Council is making money on clamping or if it is costing it money, which was the case in Cork City Council. I welcome the Bill and hope this regulation will make life a little easier for everybody.
I again welcome the Minister to the House. The Minister and I were at a seminar yesterday at which we briefly discussed safety issues, fatigue and so on. It is interesting that vehicles are now being developed which will recognise fatigue, and it is hoped that will be the next step forward in improving the safety record on roads of which we are all in favour.
What are we to do about the parked vehicles? The situation is improving. Dublin had a notorious reputation for illegal parking. Professor Michael MacCormack of UCD investigated it and found an illegal parking rate of over 80%, and about an 80% chance that nothing would happen if one did park illegally. The renowned economist, Colm McCarthy, said that the only solution to it at that stage was that if one found a car illegally parked, one could keep it because there was so little enforcement. It was a typical McCarthy proposal in that regard.
I spoke yesterday with one of the controlled carpark operators, where one goes through a barrier to enter, who said he has never used clamping. The Bill is addressing illegal parking on open access private land such as shopping centres about which Senator O'Neill spoke. It is a huge problem on the west side of Dublin. If there are matches in Croke Park the shops cannot do business because the GAA fellows take over the carpark on the morning of the match and nobody can get in to do any shopping. What are the rights of those people to try to control that? It is private land. Some clamping operates on it but they could not possibly do enough to take cars from a full carpark.
I much prefer what happens in Carlow, Thurles, Aughrim and other venues where local people operate the carparks; in Tullamore it goes to the GAA club. The GAA should be a better neighbour in regard to parking. I know there are people in some provincial towns in particular who dread a match because they cannot get in or out of their houses. They cannot go shopping for the day. It is great fun and they are great games but something had to be done about that problem.
Hospital car parking is a problem also. That is an issue we might have to clear up because as I read the Bill, the provision in respect of a hospital is not statutory while it is statutory in respect of a railway station. There were private hospitals, but most hospitals are now in the public system.
An educational establishment is not statutory, but a railway station is. In his speech the Minister stated that he wants to have parity of treatment between the different places. If I may, I will run a fine comb through the Bill to make sure that happens.
One appreciates annoyance on the part of people who are clamped. Some earlier incarnations of the Bill dealt with those people who thought they could park anywhere without penalty. Approximately 150 vehicles a day are clamped on the streets of Dublin City. There are 44,000 parking spaces. The clamping rate is 0.34%. If somebody sets out to park at lights, on a corner and so on, society has to say that will be dealt with. The system may have been out of proportion to the problem.
I am glad the Minister went for regulation rather than licensing. It is the correct approach to take. The NTA will be the operational body. Regulation does not come cheap. I hope this will be a case of compliance rather than having yet another regulatory arm. I understand the Minister stressed in his speech that setting up extra bodies to do these tasks is expensive, as no doubt the Minister, Deputy Noonan, will tell us during his Budget Statement.
On the maximum fee of €100, I understand Dublin City Council has a maximum fee of €80. The tow away fee is €160. Will that be reduced? Would it be a good idea to reduce it? Given the cost to society as a whole of somebody's illegal parking on a street in Dublin, it may be correct to let the city manager keep the €160 fine. Illegal parking is somebody cocking a snook at the rest of society. A fine of €100 is relatively lenient.
On transaction costs, there are two appeals procedures for €100. This offence is not the end of the world. It is not a human rights case, rather it is a case of someone parking in the wrong place and disrupting the city. We should tell people to get over it rather than have another field day for lawyers to contest cases at huge costs where the amount at stake to individuals and the Exchequer is €100. Some measure should be taken to minimise costs. It has been a feature of Irish society that legal costs are far too high. It jeopardises the overall competitiveness of the Irish economy.
We have to protect private property where it is at risk. Major car parks where access is restricted do not use clamping as they have enough details on drivers to pursue them elsewhere. Besides, they can charge people on the way out. This Bill concerns open access public spaces, some of which are in schools and hospitals. Illegal parking around such places is something which we should not condone. It disrupts their work.
Page 12 of the Minister's speech refers to the relocation charge of €50. I understand in Dublin it is substantially more. We might discuss what to do about that on Committee Stage. I do not know how much perceived misconduct there was in clamping authorities. There may have been a lot more perceived misconduct by those who parked illegally in the first instance. Part of the wider brief of the Minister is to keep cities moving and, no pun intended, to clamp down on people who obstruct the movements of others. Many motorists are particularly selfish and regard themselves as the centre of the world. They are deprived of access to their vehicles, but society as a whole has very good reasons for doing so, such as attempting to dissuade people from certain conduct.
As with drink driving and improved road safety, society as a whole has moved on a lot.
Four or five years ago, people came to Opposition politicians because they were exasperated after being clamped, but there may have been a pretty good reason for the clamping. If we can put reason back into the process, as the Minister clearly intends to do, I will support the next Stage of the Bill.
I welcome the Minister to the House. Last week, my party leader asked me to lead on the Vehicle Clamping Bill 2014 in the absence of my colleague Senator John Kelly, who is contesting a by-election. I said I knew nothing about vehicle clamping but I assure the Minister I am learning. I am thankful the we do not have any vehicle clamping in our area. I sat down to write a speech but I will not use it because it only regurgitates what the Minister has stated, and there is no need for that.
There are a few points I would like to refer to. I welcome the two-tier appeals process. My daughter visited me in Leinster House some time ago and she parked on Merrion Square. She parked within the white lines and put up a parking ticket, but when she returned to the car it had been clamped. She was like a raving lunatic about it. She told me there was no clear notice of clamping in operation and although it was a new practice, there were no signs, and parking spaces appeared to be marked. She had to pay to be released. When she appealed it, she did not win and the appeal went nowhere. I am glad there will be a second tier of appeals for people such as her to appeal to.
Proper and prominent signage is essential if clamping is to take place. I come from a tourist area in Killarney, which has many foreign visitors. Perhaps the signage could be in different languages for such people. I know we cannot allow people to park wherever they like and drop their cars anywhere. Nevertheless, clamping is a harsh punishment in some cases, such as when a person's parking ticket has run out. A fine should suffice in such circumstances and there should be no need to clamp a car. Clamping should take place in cases where a fire hydrant or emergency service access is being blocked, for example, or in cases in which a car causes a major obstruction. Clamping a car because a ticket has expired is too harsh a punishment.
Senator Mooney referred to disabled parking spaces. I would not care if all four wheels of a vehicle illegally parked in a disabled parking space were clamped; the more wheels clamped in such cases, the better. If it were possible to clamp the steering wheel, it should be done as well. It is absolutely despicable behaviour, although I am not referring to the Senator in this case.
I am sure he was. It was probably some years ago, as today people are far more aware of the needs of people with a disability and their requirement for dedicated parking spaces to allow them to open car doors and use lifts, for example. We must remember that disabled people go out at night as well, and they are entitled to go to the cinema or for a drink. It should be clear that nobody should park in a disabled parking space either during the day or during the night. I would not care if fines of €1,000 were levied on people who used those spaces illegally. Anybody parking illegally in such spaces should suffer consequences.
Perhaps there should be a second type of disabled parking for the elderly. If an elderly person is taken to a doctor or a hospital, a person may have to assist such people in getting out of the car. One may link arms with an elderly person and help him or her into a doctor's surgery before seeing that the person is seated comfortably and returning to move the car. I know several people who have received parking fines in such cases, and perhaps in Dublin one may be clamped in such circumstances of helping an elderly person.
Perhaps there could be a system whereby five or ten minutes would be allowed to assist elderly people in such cases, and if a traffic warden came along he or she would be able to see how long the car had been parked. Maybe a parking disc of a different colour could be used to signify a limited time for parking where the driver is assisting an elderly person. This may not be the appropriate Bill for such a measure, but we should think along those lines. In hospitals, elderly people may have to go to an outpatient department that may be some distance from the car park. In Kerry there was no clamping system, but the hospital staff would put a sticker on the windscreen or elsewhere on the car which could not be easily removed. That might be another day's work.
I am not used to the clamping process. If my car was clamped outside this building and relocated, I would not know where to look. My first action might be to ring the Garda to notify it of a stolen car. I would not have a clue what could have happened. If a car is clamped or towed away, the signage must have clear contact details. Perhaps it already does, but if it does not, details on the sign should indicate where the driver must go in order to recover a vehicle. Visitors to the city may not have a clue whom to ring if a car is removed and the sign does not give details.
When my son lived in Cork, he and his friends used to laugh at the fact that there were people who owned a clamp and would clamp their own cars, park for the day and then return and remove the clamp. The river was full of clamps that had been thrown into it.
What happens if a person does not have money to have a clamp removed? It appears that a person must pay before the clamp is removed, but what happens when a person does not have money or a credit card? Will such people be able to pay later or in instalments after having the clamp removed? There should be a charter to assist motorists. A Senator mentioned a wait of an hour and a half for a clamp to be removed. There should be a time limit on the removal of clamps from cars. If the clamp is not removed within an hour, for example, the fine should be waived.
I welcome the Minister to the House. Coincidentally, my car was clamped last week, and the experience was not much craic. When I came out of the gym on Monday morning my ticket had expired and the car had been clamped, so I had to sit on the kerb, going through the process of paying the fine. It was not a fun experience, but I will definitely put more money in the meter in future.
This is a welcome piece of legislation, and I commend the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications on the work which has brought this Bill before us. We all know that clamping has been a major cause for complaint for residents and workers in some of our larger towns and cities for many years. In some ways the practice is counterproductive, and although there is a place for clamping, it must be enforced in a way that helps address parking issues in a logical and fair way. In order to free parking spaces and keep roads clear, vehicles are immobilised and a fine is administered for the removal of the clamp. Clamping only works when the fear of being clamped is a concern; in other words, clamping should only come into effect when a driver is committing an offence by taking a risk. There is a genuine need for fines and for clampers to operate effectively when people are acting irresponsibly. As mentioned this afternoon, many people act irresponsibly and knowingly take this risk.
In order for clampers to operate effectively, they must behave in a manner which creates respect among the public and the idea that their actions are just in administration of these duties. Many people may cry foul when they are caught doing something they should not be doing and are given a fine as a result, and it is essential that those who are unjustly clamped or fined - no matter how small a group - are given the opportunity to appeal. Clampers must also operate in a culture that does not encourage clamping for its own sake or for financial gain. At present, the practice's only merit is in discouraging drivers from parking illegally. In some cases it may be better not to clamp a car, despite an infringement, in the interests of allowing a free flow of traffic as soon as possible.
There has been much public confusion about where and when a vehicle can be clamped, and I am thankful this Bill brings clarity in formulating consistent regulation for both public and private property scenarios. I apologise for missing the Minister's statement. The previous lack of regulation for private property facilitated much abuse.
Measures included in this Bill to penalise rogue clampers are essential to creating a driver culture, which I mentioned earlier, with motorists expecting fair but firm treatment. If a person keeps to the law, it should now be much less likely that he or she falls foul of clampers. I understand the Minister's comments regarding the operation of clamping at hospitals, but this practice should be considered with great care. Clamping should not be allowed to impede the use of hospitals by emergency services because a vehicle that should have been removed has been clamped. Any long-term patient who has a car clamped should be given some recognition; although an infringement cannot be ignored, certain conditions may be recognised as relevant or complicating to a case.
As has been mentioned, I welcome the two-stage appeal system, which will allow for an independent appeal after the fact. I welcome the Bill, as it will improve clamping practice as well as the public perception of the industry.
I welcome the Minister to the House and the commencement of this Bill in Seanad Éireann. Very often we can be the forgotten House, so it is great to see the Bill commencing here. It is honouring another commitment in the programme for Government, which was also in the Fine Gael manifesto prior to the last general election. That is to be welcomed. The Bill comes from a lengthy period of consultation with stakeholders, which I also welcome.
I am pleased to support the Bill on the basis that it regulates clamping activities wherever they take place. As we know, clamping is a particularly emotive issue, and in my city of Galway, the local authority dispensed with this method of parking supervision six or seven years ago because of the annoyance that it caused. It was a most unpopular practice, and regulation in this area is long overdue. We can all give many examples of motorists encountering unfairness, arrogance and intransigence at the hands of clampers. It seems that no explanation for overstaying parking time, no matter how genuine, ever seems to be accepted. Many motorists have fallen foul of clampers by not knowing that clamping is in operation in a particular area, so I welcome that the persons responsible for enforcing parking restrictions - referred to in the Bill as parking controllers - will now be obliged to provide signage that is prominently displayed, indicating that clamping is in operation, along with the costs associated with those activities.
I support very strongly Senator Moloney's comments about signage, particularly the posting of details of where a vehicle will be held if it is towed away and how to contact the clamping company in order to have the vehicle returned. I welcome the setting of a maximum clamp release charge, as such charges seem to vary greatly throughout the country. This has been a source of much complaint from the general public. One of the strengths of the Bill is the two-tier appeals system. In the past, motorists' experiences of appealing to the clamping companies have seldom resulted in a satisfactory outcome for the appellant. A system of appeal to an independent clamping appeals officer designated by the National Transport Authority seems fair and appropriate.
The clamping of vehicles in hospital car parks, which has already been mentioned, is particularly contentious.
In University Hospital Galway, one of the major complaints of those attending the hospital, whether as visitors or patients, is the lack of adequate parking facilities.
Therefore, people are Inevitably driven to parking in unauthorised places. I have no problem with them being clamped if they are likely to cause difficulty for ambulance access or an emergency. It is incumbent on the hospital authorities to ensure adequate parking facilities are available. In its 2012 report on alternatives to clamping, the joint committee recommended that self-enforcing barrier control car parks should be used as an alternative to clamping particularly in sensitive locations, such as hospitals. The Bill, as drafted, does not provide for that exemption. According to the Minister, it took the view that even though hospitals are sensitive places the fact that some people park recklessly in hospital car parks sometimes impeding access, the NTA is allowed to treat hospitals differently from other public areas but it does not believe an outright ban on clamping in hospitals is appropriate.
In general the Bill is welcome. On the issue of parking in disabled spaces, I strongly object to such parking. In my own town of Ballinasloe, a small town which has a significant number of parking paces allocated for disabled persons, I regularly see able bodied people parking in those spaces. That is wrong. Any penalty, no matter how high, imposed on those who park in disabled persons' spaces is acceptable to me.
I compliment the Minister on bringing the Bill to the House, the main thrust of which I support.
I welcome the Minister back to the House which he shunned. He must be contorted with embarrassment to be here, having campaigned for its abolition.
I welcome the Bill, one I called for five or six years ago in this House. I am glad the Government has caught up with the situation. To take up a point raised by Senator Michael Mullins, I was in St. Vincent's Hospital yesterday for a meeting with consultants about blood tests and so on. There is a five-storey car park there but not a single space was available and I parked in front of a ventilation unit. Somebody who was coming out said I was very courageous to park there and would be clamped. I said, if I am, I will be unclamped pretty bloody quickly. This whole area has become troubled since the abandonment by the city authority in Dublin, and probably in other cities as well, of its own clamping service, the little brownies. They were accepted by people. They were flexible. Now we have a situation where it is franchised out and the profits go to London. That is absolutely ridiculous. I would like to see the re-installation of a clamping service with our own traffic wardens paid by us and the profits coming back to us instead of travelling over to England. It is the same with the bins. They made ducks and drakes out of bins with a Neapolitan Mafia style burning out of others' bin lorries and so on. They are on the streets every single bloody day after 1.30 a.m. That is privatisation. Of course, this is a Fine Gael Minister and so, I suppose, we cannot resist the onward rush of Gadarene capitalism.
I welcome the fact that the Minister is addressing this issue. The idea of harmonisation with so many different entities involved will be a substantially difficult one. The setting of maximum permissible clamp release charges on private lands is excellent but it does go against something the Minister said when he mentioned the difficulty of introducing a statutory licensing regime because it is excessive and too costly to implement. He is setting a maximum and that is good but he is partially involved in intervening there. He said it ended up subsidising an economically unsustainable licensing regime and so on and increasing such charges to offset licensing fees imposed by the State. The private clampers increase their charges. If the Minister is setting a maximum charge they cannot go above the maximum, at least that is as I understand it.
The Minister said something very interesting about disabled people, namely that they can park where they like. I think that is daft. I quote from the Minister's speech where he said: "A vehicle displaying a disabled parking permit will be exempted from being clamped in any place where clamping is specifically legislated for under an enactment." The disabled have a free bill to park anywhere and nobody will do anything about it. I do not agree with that and I have fought for the disabled all my political life.
I do not apologise but I think it important to put this on the record. About five years ago I suffered at the hands of the private clampers on a Sunday. I attended Christ Church Cathedral because it had music by Haydn whereas St. Patrick's had some awful modern squawker, who was not even dead, providing the music. I parked on a derelict site where there was no visible evidence that one would be charged. Eventually when I came back and found that I had been clamped I was hysterical because I had people for lunch and I was up against the clock. When the clampers came out, they pointed out that there was a notice which had been covered up by ivy. This was a derelict site and they wanted €175 which I eventually scraped up. I certainly complained. It had an independent complaints committee, I suppose somebody with a cup of coffee in a back room somewhere off Francis Street. I argued the toss and I got half back. That is completely wrong.
There is also the relocation by time. We have had that in North Great George's Street where cars whisked off Gardiner Street have been dumped in our private residential street. I do not agree with that. Where will they dump the cars they relocate? Why should people have the right to clamp or to tow on private lands? If it is a question of an aggressive invasion it can be done under the laws of trespass. I see no reason to clamp. If one drives into a forest area in the country and parks one's car, one does not expect to come back and find it clamped by some landlord. I am being very parochial. North Great George's Street held the award, the accolade as the most clamped street in Dublin-----
No, North Great George's Street had that record on numerous occasions. It may vary between that and Parnell Street but I doubt very much that what Senator Paschal Mooney says is accurate because there is no parking on Parnell Street. I have seen some people speak to the Garda there. North Great George's Street is clamped all the time because it is on the direct rat run for the clamping vehicles back to their depot. I have seen country cars clamped there at 11.55 p.m. on a Saturday, five minutes to midnight, during the Christmas shopping rush. That is the kind of thing that creates antagonism to clamping. When clamping was first introduced I was all in support of it and used to sing "clamp, clamp, clamp, the boys are marching...".
May I make a final point? For clamping to work, one needs the co-operation of the citizens. The situation needs to be fair. This Bill is a move in that direction but I believe it is incomplete and I hope it will be monitored.
I thank the Senator for that most enlightening contribution. I call on the Minister to reply. I welcome him to the House.
The Minister played a very important role when he was in the Seanad. He is very welcome back and I wish him well in his ministry.
Thank you, Acting Chairman.
I thank all Senators for the contributions they have made on the Bill and the general issues of parking and transport policy. I will begin by emphasising briefly some of the main points in the Bill and will then respond to some of the points made by Senators.
The first key part of the Bill that will improve the current situation is its focus on the activity of clamping. Second, the Bill includes broad terms of reference for the lands on which clamping will be regulated. I will come back to a particular question that Senator David Norris asked in that regard. The third point which is very important concerns the appeals process laid down. It is a two tier appeals process. Capping will be provided for in place of the charges people may face unless the National Transport Authority, NTA, decides to issue its own regulations on the level of charges.
There are four features of the Bill that will greatly improve the current situation. This was recognised by all Senators in the contributions they made. I will now address some of the questions put to me by Senators in the course of their contributions.
To begin with Senator Paschal Mooney, I agree with the point he made in the early part of his contribution where he noted that the issue of signage was crucial. This is a key point. If people do not know that they are parking in an area in which their vehicle might be clamped and do not understand the time limits within which they can park and the conditions imposed on them, much of what is within the Bill will not be as effective as it needs to be. It is important that signage be clear and that people, when parking, understand what will happen if they park at a time or in a space that they are not meant to.
The Senator expressed disappointment that the Bill did not play a guiding role on parking policy. Other Senators also touched on this point. The reason is that the Bill covers a variety of landowners. Public land falls mainly within the remit of local authorities, unless it is owned by some of the agencies referred to in the Bill, for example, CIE or the Railway Procurement Agency. These bodies will determine parking policy on their lands. Private land is also included. Senator Sean D. Barrett summed up very well the private land to which we were referring - open private land, land in private ownership which most of the time is accessible to the public. The person who owns the land - whether they are an apartment complex owner or a shopping centre owner - has rights that we have to recognise in the Bill. That is why it does not set out to form parking policy, because of the variety of owners and pieces of land the Bill covers and the need to respect the rights of these owners when putting together clamping legislation.
I come to the third point made by Senator Paschal Mooney which was also touched on by Senator Pat O'Neill concerning what would happen when the NTA played its role under the legislation, for example, where it set a code of practice or a proposed charge for the clamping or towing away of a vehicle. The Senator queried what role the public or Members of the Oireachtas would play in this regard. There will be periods of public consultation prior to the introduction of the proposed charge and code of practice. During these periods there will be an opportunity for the Oireachtas or a committee of the Oireachtas to have its input. I hope that will happen, given their roles in the drafting of this legislation.
On the question Senator Pat O'Neill put regarding the length of time involved, I understand he is referring to a situation where a person pays for parking in a particular area and the parking period comes to an end. He queries if there will be a grace period. That is exactly the kind of issue that demonstrates why there is a need for a code of practice to be developed and issued by the NTA. For example, Dublin City Council has a particular view of grace periods after parking periods come to an end. It would be helpful if it was consistent and broadly understood. I would like to see the NTA play a role in that regard by developing and issuing an industry code of practice.
Regarding a notice of towing, Senator Pat O'Neill asks what is to happen after a clamping company has removed a vehicle. The company is required to notify the Garda. On the Senator's particular question as to what will happen to a driver when he or she returns and finds that his or her car is gone, this is the kind of issue in which I hope the NTA will play a role. I hope it will lay out a consistent code of practice across the country and make clear the responsibilities of private companies that remove such a vehicle.
The point on which Senator Sean D. Barrett concluded his contribution is one that guides the Bill. He spoke about the need to balance the competing interests of someone who owned a car and broader society in ensuring public access is not reduced and the rights of private property owners. These are balanced with the responsibilities private clamping operators should discharge. That, in essence, is what the Bill seeks to address. It aims to be proportionate in recognising the size of the industry. Senator David Norris touched on this point. It is estimated that there are six to eight companies involved in most of the clamping which takes place on private land. That is why the issue of active registration was not pursued. Given the number of companies involved in clamping, the same objective could be achieved by focusing on clamping. By focusing on it, it was possible to address some of the public's concerns, which have been referred to by Senators and of which I am aware.
On the point about illegal parking in the past, I had an opportunity to look at the summary of the Oireachtas committee's report compiled after its hearings. One of the early contributions was made by business associations which pointed out how difficult it used to be to find parking because of the level of illegal parking. One of the contributors to the process offered Merrion Square as an example. That is why there are such restrictions on where a person can park. We need to ensure private clamping operators are monitoring in a way that is lawful and regulated. The Bill seeks to do this.
Senator Sean D. Barrett put a particular question to me on whether costs should come down. The Senator compared current costs to the default costs to come into operation should the NTA not play its role under the Bill. That is the answer to the Senator's question. If the NTA does not put in place a different set of charges, the default charges included in the Bill will come into operation. Clearly, power is being afforded to the NTA to play this role and the matter will be subject to a period of public consultation. The NTA will then put in place the charges it believes are appropriate.
Senator Marie Moloney touched on the signage issue, on which Senator Paschal Mooney also made a point. I agree with Senator Marie Moloney who also pointed to the importance of the appeals procedure. I went through the appeals procedure, on which other Senators touched.
There is a need for that to be properly understood and fairly implemented. We are also looking to strike a balance, so that when private companies put the appeals process in place and do it well, this is recognised by the Bill, but in those cases where applicants do not feel they have been treated fairly, the National Transport Authority will be able to play a role.
Senator O'Neill asked a question about where cars go when they are towed. This is an area that the National Transport Authority could look at in relation to the powers that it will then have, but I should emphasise that under current practice the Garda is required to be notified. Senator Reilly, who broadly supported the Bill, emphasised the need for consistent regulation across the country, with which I would agree. She also pointed out that powers for carrying out clamping or fining exist in order to prevent the free flow of traffic from being interrupted, and that when people are parking their cars they need to know that if they do not park legally, or if they stay for longer than they should, they will face sanction. I believe that at the first stage the sanction should always be a fine rather than a clamp. The question of where that clamp is going to be used is the reason we need better regulation, and that is where this Bill comes in.
Senator Mullins supported the Bill and made the point that it was overdue, as was also stated by other Senators during the contribution. He acknowledged the fact that the two-tier process could play a helpful role for appeals in terms of allaying the concerns that many people have. He also raised a point in relation to the maximum release charge. I touched on that with Senator Barrett but would like to emphasise again that the Bill puts in place default charges that could be superseded by the National Transport Authority were it to decide to issue a new charge, which would then be subject to public consultation, as I said when dealing with Senator Mooney's question.
Senator Norris referred to the rush of capitalism to my head. I should point out that we are bringing in a Bill that seeks to regulate those very forces of capitalism in a way that recognises all of the legitimate concerns that people have raised over many years with the aim of making regulation possible. Senator Norris asked why this was not being done by local authorities across the country. One of the interesting points that emerged for me while I was getting ready for this debate, which was picked up on by Senator O'Neill, was the fact that the only local authority that still engages directly in clamping is Dublin City Council. It is interesting to see that the majority of clamping that takes place in the country takes place on private property, as Senator O'Neill pointed out. That is why we need an approach such as this. Most of that clamping takes place in open private spaces, as Senator Barrett mentioned, such as outside office areas and shopping centres, apartment complexes----
I wonder if it is appropriate to ask the Minister if I am not correct in thinking that although Dublin City Council, or whatever it is called now, may be the ultimate authority, it actually hires in an English firm?
I am not aware, but I will check that for the Senator and will come back to him at another stage in this debate to let him know what the company is. It is a fair question to ask. In relation to his point on who the ultimate party would be, he is correct that it would be a local authority that was hiring somebody to do the work. Under this Bill, it would then be subject to the regulation that this Bill allows, but ultimately to the National Transport Authority. A useful analogy would be the role that the National Transport Authority currently plays in the regulation of the taxi industry. While people may have different views regarding whether it is done well, it is the National Transport Authority that now plays the ultimate role, and under this Bill it would have the ability to play a similar role in relation to clamping and private clamping operatives. With regard to Senator Norris's point about a derelict site and the signage being covered up, I am glad to hear he still had the opportunity to get home and cook lunch for his guests, and I hope the quality of that lunch was not reduced - I am sure it was not - by the----
I am glad the Senator has clarified that in his response. His point in relation to signage is important and I do not want to take away from that. The fact that signage needs to be clear and well understood was touched on by many Senators earlier, but of course the issue of open private land, which Senator Barrett touched on, is of particular significance. Local authorities, as we are all aware, have lots of different things that they are trying to do well at the moment; they have many competing demands. The local authorities do have expertise built up in terms of how to publicly communicate what they are asking people to do in land that they own through signage and so on. We need to ensure that people who are operating open private land are clear about what their responsibilities are. Senator Norris questioned what this open private land could be - could it be a forest? The answer, as Senator Barrett has said, is that it is mainly shopping centres, apartment complexes and other privately owned land.
Could the Minister address the issue of methods of payment for people who cannot afford the clamping fee and do not have the money on them? Also, can we put a limit on the time it should take for clampers to come back and unclamp a car?
The answer to both those questions could be in the code of practice that the National Transport Authority would have the ability to issue, should it decide to do so. This Bill gives the National Transport Authority the ability to issue codes of practice in particular areas within the industry. If they were so minded, the issues mentioned by the Senator could clearly be included within this code of practice.
I thank all Senators for the points they have raised----
Senator Norris could not be rude. I will come back to him in relation to that point and I apologise for not referring to it directly. The reason disabled drivers are given specific recognition within the Bill is to ensure that the issue is treated consistently across the country and in relation to different pieces of land. I know from my own constituency work that when people cannot access a space that has been granted to them - we are all familiar with the yellow-demarcated land - it can cause great stress and inconvenience. The reason there is recognition of this issue in the Bill is to make sure treatment is fair and consistent across public and private land. It is a fair question, and as the Bill goes to Committee and Report Stages I will clarify the issue further, if it has not already been done within the Bill.
I thank all the Senators for their points. I think I have covered them all, but if I have not, there will be an opportunity for further discussion on Committee Stage. I would like to emphasise that it is not the objective of this Bill to guide parking policy, due to the point to which I referred earlier on. The Bill covers both public and private land, and the rights and responsibilities that the owners of public and private land would have. That is the balance it seeks to strike, and in so doing it looks to be proportionate and to address many issues that people have had regarding an appeals process, signage, and the inconsistency of fines. These are issues that have been raised by all Senators. I look forward to engaging further with the Senators as the Bill goes through the Seanad. I thank Members for taking the time to read the Bill and put forward informed contributions about how we can improve it.