Decisions on Public Petitions Received

The committee has received 15 petitions to date since its establishment. The secretariat has been examining them to establish their admissibility and how best to progress them for consideration by the committee. There are five petitions to be discussed and we will now deliver our decisions on these.

The first petition is petition No. P00013/16 from Mr. Paul Lorigan entitled Extend Offer of National Reunification to Northern Ireland and Scotland. The petition relates to the recent decision by the electorate in the United Kingdom to exit Europe and the fact that the majority of the electorate in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in Europe. The petitioner is requesting that the people of Ireland invite Northern Ireland and Scotland to share in an equal, fair and democratic nation. He is calling for a representative union based on equality and fraternity to be given fair consideration by public representatives in the Dáil and Seanad and that this suggestion be debated both Houses.

In his response the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade outlined the Government's approach to the UK's exit from the European Union and the priority placed on the Northern Ireland peace process. The Government is committed to ensuring the Good Friday Agreement and the overall balance of the settlement is not in any way disturbed by the UK's exit from the European Union. The Agreement provides for the possibility at some stage in the future of a united Ireland providing a majority voted for that option. A Border poll which would test this consent in Northern Ireland can only be directed by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. As regards the petitioners reference to Scotland, there is no similar basis on which to consider the petitioner's proposal.

The decision of the committee is to forward a copy of the response received from the Department to the petitioner and to close the petition. Is that agreed? Agreed.

We move on to petition No. P00014/16 from Mr. Damon Mathew Wise Âû entitled Petition for Exemption from Audit for small grassroots members-driven volunteer political parties. The petitioner highlights the fact that the Electoral Act 1997 and the Electoral Amendment (Political Funding) Act 2012 requires that the accounts of all political parties must be audited by a public auditor. The petitioner is of the opinion that volunteer-run political parties which do not have any paid membership should be exempt from having to pay for public audits. The petitioner suggested that we report to the Dáil and Seanad with recommendations, request that this report be debated by both Houses and an amendment be made to the political funding Act. The secretariat engaged with the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government and a response was received on 28 October. The response outlines the reasons for the current legislation. Both GRECO and SIPO, the Standards in Public Office Commission, have made recommendations in their published reports on audits of accounts and political funding.

The response also outlines the guidelines on the formation and size of a political party.

The committee's decision is to forward a copy of the response received from the Department to the petitioner and close the petition. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The next petition for consideration is petition No. P00018/16 entitled Dedicated Queues for Irish Citizens and their Non-EU Family Members at Passport Control. This petition relates to passport control points at Dublin Airport and the processing of the spouses of EU and non-EU passport holders. The petitioner entered Ireland with his Australian wife and was annoyed that she was instructed to pass through the non-EU passport control desk. He believes that a non EU passport holder should be allowed enter the country through the same control desk as their spouses, namely the desk for EU passport holders. He advised that while in Ireland he travelled to the UK and his wife was allowed to accompany him through the EU desk.

The primary issue for the petitioner, Mr. Norman Wilson, is the procedures relating to an EU national travelling with a spouse who is not from an EU member state in terms of how one is treated at the point of entry and what legislation or statutory instrument governs the passport control service to allow them to separate a spouse in this manner. He is requesting that the Minister for Justice and Equality, by way of statutory instrument or other means, allow third-country spouses and-or children of Irish citizens to accompany their Irish spouse or parent through the EU line at passport control when entering the State and have their passports duly stamped in that line.

We have considered this petition and have agreed to write to the Minister for Justice and Equality recommending that she explore the introduction of legislation or statutory instrument to allow the petitioner's request to be implemented; that we would write to INIS recommending the introduction of a passport kiosk to manage both EU nationals and their non-EU families; and request that they report back to the committee. The peition will remain open until we receive a response

The next petition for consideration is petition No. P00019/16, from Mr. Daryl Cusack, entitled Unconstitutionality of the Proposed Bill: Criminal Justice (Aggravation by Prejudice) Bill 2016. The petitioner is questioning the constitutionality of a Private Members' Bill entitled Criminal Justice (Aggravation by Prejudice) Bill 2016 published by Fianna Fáil Deputy Fiona O’Loughlin, currently on Committee Stage with the Select Committee on Justice and Equality. This Bill was initiated in order to tackle “hate speech and hate crimes”. The petitioner is claiming this Bill is unconstitutional under the following Articles of the Constitution: Article 40.1 - All citizens shall, as human persons, be held equal before the law; and Article 40.6.1 - the State guarantees liberty for the exercise of the following rights, subject to public order and morality: - i.

the right of the citizen to express freely their convictions and opinions. The petitioner has contacted the secretariat about his concern on how Private Members' Bills will be scrutinised during their passage through the House. Private Members' Bills are scrutinised during their passage through Parliament and there is a provision under Standing Order 141 for the constitutionality of a Bill to be examined during their processing and scrutiny.

Having considered this petition, the committee will advise the petitioner of Standing Order 141 (2) and suggest he engage directly with the clerk of the select committee; inform the Deputy of receipt of this petition; inform the clerk of the Select Committee on Justice and Equality of this petition; and close this petition. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The next petition for consideration is petition No. P00026/16, Ms Laura English, entitled Driving Test Requirements. The Road Safety Authority, RSA, guidelines outline that mandatory essential driver training is required for all learner drivers who received their first driver permit on or after 4 April 2011. The EDT course is made up of 12 one-hour lessons which applicants must complete before taking the driving test. The cost of the driving test is currently €85 for a car. The cost of the lessons averages at about €300 for 12 lessons. The petitioner is of the opinion that the cost of the tests is too expensive and may preclude some people from being in a position to apply for a driving test. The petitioner outlines that a phased method of completing the EDT would be more beneficial; her suggestion is that four lessons be taken in advance of the test and the remaining eight lessons could be a requirement to obtain a car insurance certificate. The petitioner claims it could cost an individual in excess of €2,000 before the purchase of a car etc.

The secretariat has engaged with both the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Road Safety Authority on this petition. The response from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport confirms that Ireland operates within a framework of EU law on driver licensing and testing. The EU sets out in considerable detail the requirements for driving tests for all member states. The proposed revision to a "landmark" test would not be possible under EU law. The response from the RSA confirms that best practice suggests that between 80 to 120 hours practice are needed for a learner to achieve the necessary basic competencies to drive safely; 12 EDT lessons equates to 1.5 days of driving. The RSA is currently considering carrying out an evaluation of the EDT programme when more data is available.

Having considered the petition and the responses from the stakeholders the committee has agreed the following - that we write again to the Department inquiring who has responsibility for regulating the price of EDT lessons and if they would look favourably at following in the UK's footsteps regarding the lack of a limit on the number of lessons. Is that agreed? Agreed.

That concludes our business for today.

The joint committee adjourned at 5.50 p.m. until 1.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 14 December 2016.