Road Traffic Bill, 1993: From the Seanad (Resumed).

The Dáil went into Committee to consider amendments from the Seanad.
Debate resumed on Seanad amendment No. 10:
Section 19: 10. In page 16, lines 6 to 31, subsections (4) and (5) deleted.

In dealing with this Bill before the Easter recess I had explained the reason I was deleting subsections (4) and (5), the effect of which would be to leave the law as it stood. I further explained that difficulties had arisen in the past. The requirement of the medical bureau to send a copy of the certificate to the person who provided the specimen gave rise to those difficulties. While it is not a statutory requirement, the bureau by registered post, issues all results of analysis. If a certificate issued in this way fails to be delivered, it is returned to the local post office for a few days in case it is called for and, if not collected, is returned to the bureau. From the bureau it is then sent to the Garda Síochána for delivery by hand. Up to 10 per cent of all certificates issued by registered post fail to be delivered. For example, in 1991 when a total of 7,806 specimens were received, approximately 830 envelopes were returned to the bureau as being undelivered by registered post. The bureau maintain that in most of these cases the reason is that the individuals concerned, knowing the contents of the letter, simply refuse to sign for or accept delivery.

The provisions of subsections (4) and (5) were originally to overcome this difficulty and to do away with the procedure where undelivered certificates are subsequently delivered by hand by the Garda. These subsections were intended to provide that proof of postage of the copy of the certificate to the person from whom the specimen was taken would be sufficient compliance with the requirement in subsection (3). Legal advice however, indicated that the new subsections would not be advisable because they seem to confer a new requirement on the bureau to prove delivery and as a result could create a new problem for the bureau. We are allowing the existing law to stand and deleting the subsections which were originally intended to deal with a problem, which arising from recent court decisions are no longer necessary.

It makes an ass of the law when technicalities, such as those outlined by the Minister, could mean that somebody who has committed a serious offence could not be brought before the courts. For that reason I support the measures he intends to put in place to ensure that those who should face the court will do so. I sincerely hope, as a result of the deletion of these two subsections, abuses will not continue. The Minister should examine ways and means of introducing a direct delivery service from the bureau for which people would pay. Unfortunately, because of long delays in our postal system many of us await mail which does not arrive for many days. I do not know how registered post is affected. On issues such as this we should not interfere in any way or make it easier for people to avoid prosecution. For that reason I do not oppose the Minister's suggestion, but it is unfortunate that a loophole may remain. If that is the case some other method of delivery of the results of a specimen should be considered so as to avoid any possible contention in the future.

The Minister said that approximately 10 per cent of certificates posted were returned as not being received. He is now deleting the provision he had proposed in that regard and intends maintaining the existing situation. However, he has not clarified what proof will be necessary of receipt of the certificate. The Minister may have given a full explanation in the Seanad but he has not done so here. Many people in the legal profession were noted for their expertise in dealing with the drink driving provisions of the Road Traffic Act and made a good living out of it. This Bill will not be long on the Statute Book before they pore over it seeking new loopholes to benefit their guilty clients. I would be reassured if the Minister gave a fuller explanation as to what procedures will apply if these subsections are dropped.

The obligation on the bureau is to forward a copy of the certificate to the person who provided the specimen. The practice is to send that by registered post. The obligation is simply to forward the copy and the High Court has held this does not confer an absolute obligation on the bureau to ensure it is received. A provision seeking that proof of postage is deemed to be proof of delivery is unnecessary. I accept the Deputy's point that legislation in regard to road traffic law has been found to be defective on very flimsy grounds. We have tried to close off every loophole in this Bill.

In May a High Court decision influenced my final thinking on the matter. It required the bureau to forward the copy. It is not necessary in law for the bureau to prove in all cases that the specimen has been delivered but in the normal legal process the defendant has the right to seek and receive that copy in court if he has not already received it. In the earlier provisions we set out to use a new measure of proof and we are now satisfied on the basis of current law and High court decisions that it is safer to leave the law as it presently stands. It is precisely because of the point made by Deputy Barrett that I do not want to insert a provision in this Bill which may contain the possibility of opening up a loophole.

Question put and agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 11 has already been discussed with Seanad amendment No. 4.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 11:

Section 21: In page 18, between lines 18 and 19, the following subsection inserted:

"(5) Where, pursuant to section 13, 14 or 15, a designated doctor states in writing that he is unwilling, on medical grounds, to take from a person a specimen of his blood or be provided by him with a specimen of his urine, the statement signed by the doctor shall, in any proceedings under the Road Traffic Acts, 1961 to 1993, be sufficient evidence, until the contrary is shown, of the facts stated therein, without proof of any signature on it or that the signatory was the proper person to sign it.".

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 12:

Section 22: In page 18, lines 23 to 26 deleted and the following substituted:

"the person to pay to the court a contribution towards the costs and expenses incurred by the Bureau in the performance of its functions not exceeding".

This is an amendment to section 22 which provides for payments to be made by persons convicted of drink driving offences. The section in the Bill as passed by the Dáil provided for payments of costs and expenses incurred in the investigation, detection and prosecution of the offences. This amendment limits the requirement to a contribution towards the expenses of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety. During the Seanad debate a number of concerns were expressed in relation to this section. One of the fears expressed was that the costs of prosecutions generally could be levied against a convicted person and that excessive costs could be involved. I stressed that my only concern was to recoup the cost associated with running the Medical Bureau of Road Safety. The Seanad agreed to the amendment which provides that where a person is convicted, the court shall, unless it is satisfied that there are special and substantial reasons for not so doing, order the person to pay a contribution towards the costs of the bureau subject to a maximum to be prescribed. The amount of the contribution will be a matter for the court to decide.

It was always my intention to relate this to the costs of the medical bureau but perhaps the language used in the original design of the Bill left open to doubt the possibility that the court could, in certain circumstances, consider other elements of costs and we are now limiting it to costs associated with the medical bureau. The allocation in my Department for the medical bureau is £500,000.

What is the average cost of carrying out a test on a specimen? The amount of money should be indicated in the legislation. The amendment states the person should pay to the court a contribution towards the costs and expenses. That could vary from one court to the next and questions could be asked, such as, the basis on which costs are decided. If the cost of a test is £50 presumably the only other costs involved would be postage or transport. A figure should be inserted into the legislation which could be altered with the rate of inflation.

The court waive the payment in certain circumstances. A maximum amount will be set by regualtion but there will be no minimum. Without prescribing it in law, I should indicate to the House that it will range somewhere between £60 and £80 on average.

I do not like the court having discretion in this kind of instance. Everyone should have to pay the contribution if that is what is set down in law. I do not object to it being paid by instalment. If it is assumed a person has means they will have to pay whereas another person with a sob story would not have to pay and I object to that. The provision should apply to everyone. People do not drive unless they can afford to do so and the court should not be given discretion in this area. There should be provision for payment by instalment.

Many of us share the view that we would like a degree of uniformity in the application of the law but it is quite refreshing at this stage of the debate to get some support for what might be called mandatory thinking in terms of obliging the court to do certain things. The Deputy will appreciate that I came under fire regarding a number of provisions where I sought to make it mandatory on the courts to operate this law in a particular way. In the circumstances we are as well to leave it to the discretion of the court and prescribe the maximum amount in regulations. I have listened to many arguments in both Houses asking me to leave matters to the courts in all cases; perhaps my views have been swayed over the past ten months because I have conceded a number of amendments giving back discretion to the courts but in this instance only a few Acts prescribe for payments of this kind against offenders. Perhaps as we start the process of the offender paying a contribution towards the damage he or she has done we should at least leave it more to the discretion of the courts having set a maximum but no minimum and the provision whereby in special circumstances the payment should not be made.

It is appropriate that the courts should have discretion in deciding the amount but I sympathise with the point made by Deputy Barrett that there is often great frustration when a person is convicted of a serious offence and the fine imposed by the court does not seem to fit the crime. In this section the Minister intends to set a maximum figure and the judge will have discretion to require the convicted person to pay expenses up to the maximum. The section states that the maximum shall stand prescribed. In what section is the amount prescribed? What criteria does the Minister apply in deciding the amount to prescribe and will the matter be reviewed annually?

It is prescribed under section 22. A number of provisions in the Bill will have to be brought in by regulation and this will be done under section 22. We will also take account of whether the figure should be indexed.

Question put and agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 13, 14, 15, 20, 24, 25 and 35 are related. Amendments Nos. 16 to 19, inclusive, are consequential on amendment No. 20. Amendments Nos. 21, 22 and 23 are consequential on amendment No. 24 and it is suggested, therefore, that amendments Nos. 13 to 25, inclusive, and amendment No. 35 be taken together.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No.13:

Section 26: In page 20, line 29, "Where" deleted and "Subject to subsection (5) (b) of this section, where" substituted.

This group of amendments being discussed together proposes a number of changes to the provisions governing consequential, or mandatory disqualification orders to give a certain level of discretion to the courts in applying the provisions.

While a large number of amendments are being discussed together, there are only three main changes contained in amendments Nos. 14, 20 and 24. The remainder of the amendments are consequential changes, some of a very minor nature.

The effect of the amendments is as follows: where the court is satisfied that special reasons or circumstances exist in individual cases, the court will have power: (a) under amendment No. 14, to decide in the case of any offence, that the requirement to pass a driving test before a licence is returned will not apply; (b) under amendment No. 20, to decide in the case of drink driving offences that a shorter period of disqualification may be imposed on a first offence but not less than one year which is the existing minimum period; (c) under amendment No. 24 in the case of first offences of dangerous driving and uninsured driving, to decide to apply no disqualification or to apply a shorter period.

I believe these amendments cater fully for any special or mitigating circumstances that may arise in individual cases.

The principle of consequential disqualification is that the courts must, on conviction of specified offences, impose a period of disqualification from holding a driving licence. This principle has been an important feature of road traffic legislation for many years and is a very effective deterrent.

A number of reservations about these provisions has been expressed during the debate in both Houses. It has been suggested in some quarters that the whole concept should be deleted. My position on that is abundantly clear. Mandatory disqualification is not a new concept and I am not prepared to dilute the existing law.

It has also been suggested that some of the longer periods of disqualification proposed — and the application of the principle to first offences of dangerous driving and uninsured driving — may be excessive; or that there could be cases of technical offences or other special circumstances in individual cases which would not warrant disqualification.

I am satisfied that longer disqualification periods are warranted for drink driving offences; for dangerous driving causing death or injury; and for hit and run offences where death or injury is caused. I am saisfied also that the principle should apply to dangerous driving and uninsured driving — both of which are serious offences.

I accept that special circumstances can arise in individual cases and, accordingly, the amendments propose to give the courts discretion to cater for such special cases.

I do not have a problem with these provisions — and the very stringent regulations for drink driving — but it is extraordinary that the court will have discretion not to disqualify somebody who drives a motor vehicle without insurance. I can understand that disputes may arise on dangerous driving and whether there are mitigating circumstances, for example where somebody is rushing to a hospital, but one is either insured or not, it is black and white. Too much tolerance is shown to people driving without insurance. Uninsured drivers cause a great deal of damage to property and injure people. I am aware that the Motor Insurance Bureau covers personal injury claims in cases where somebody has been injured by an uninsured driver but the insurance companies levy the premium on everybody and do not pay it themselves. The cost of motor insurance for young people is crucifying and some are tempted to drive without insurance. The higher the cost of insurance the greater the temptation to drive without it. I do not accept that we should send out a message that driving without insurance is acceptable in certain circumstances. A person driving without insurance may not cause an accident but too many people blatantly ignore the law. It is as serious to drive a car without insurance as to drive a car having taken two pints of Smithwicks.

I share the views expressed by the Deputy and condemn, in the strongest possible terms, those who drive cars without insurance. The figure stands at between 6 per cent and 8 per cent. The overall value of vehicle insurance premia is approximately £500 million per year and the value of claims is in the same bracket. People who pay insurance must meet the liabilities incurred by those who drive without it. These new provisions should be of help to the Garda and the security forces in securing prosecutions. For the first time they will have extra powers to deal with uninsured drivers and in certain circumstances will be able to confiscate the car until the insurance is paid.

In cases involving dangerous driving, hit and run involving death or serious injury and drunken driving there will be no deviation from what is provided for in the Bill. It was put to me in the Seanad that in special circumstances the court should have discretion. Some eminent members of the Judiciary have also argued that this should be the case. The Deputy may take it that mandatory disqualification will be the norm.

While Members on all sides of the House support that view the amendment which the Minister accepted in the Seanad is reasonable. The judge is the only person who will hear all the facts in any case. The courts, therefore, should have discretion and the Minister provides for this in the amendment.

It is one of the great scandals of our time that so many people drive motor vehicles without insurance. The costs, which run into many millions of pounds, have to be met by law abiding drivers in terms of higher insurance premia and compensation payments. Premia in this country are substantially higher than in other European Union countries due to the large number of people who drive without insurance.

When a road traffic Bill was being discussed in the House some years ago I proposed that each vehicle owner should be required to display his insurance certificate on the windscreen with his motor tax disc. I am pleased that that amendment was accepted and that insurance companies now issue insurance certificates on which the date is clearly visible in large print to members of the Garda Síochána and traffic wardens.

Travelling to the Dáil from my western constituency I am amazed that so few checks are carried out to establish whether drivers have their vehicles insured and have paid their motor tax. If the figures are as high as the Minister said, there is little point in tightening the legislation and giving the courts new powers if guilty people will never be brought before them. I have never understood the reason we tolerated this scandal given that the motorist is penalised heavily. The cost of motor tax and insurance is exceptionally high and, with other motoring expenses, accounts for an enormous proportion of the ordinary working man's income. The car is not the luxury it may have been deemed to be 30 to 40 years ago, it is a necessity. One could not survive without a car in rural Ireland.

I appeal to the Minister to inform his colleague that this point was raised during the debate. It is easy to stand up in this House and ask the Garda to be more active but, given the huge sums of money involved and the financial penalty imposed on law abiding motorists, it is a scandal that we tolerate such a high level of uninsured drivers. Does the Minister have any figures for the percentage of uninsured drivers to other European Union countries? Do they tolerate such a high level of uninsured drivers?

My last appeal resulted in insurance certificates being displayed on the windscreens of motor cars. I am confident that I will receive a similar response on this occasion and that there will be a crackdown on uninsured drivers. As we are all aware, certain members in our communities pride themselves on the fact that they do not pay insurance. Why are they allowed to get away with it?

There is no difference between us on this issue; the number of uninsured drivers is unacceptable. It would be unfair to give the impression that the Garda is not making a great effort to secure prosecutions. The number stands at approximately 25,000 per year. It is almost a culture in some areas and we have to combat it by giving the legislation more teeth so that the Garda will have additional powers in terms of penalties to secure prosecutions and that there will be effective deterrents.

Earlier Deputy Barrett drew a comparison between a person who consumes an enormous volume of alcoholic drink and a person who takes a couple of drinks and suggested that the same penalty will be applied in all cases. This is not true; it will be a matter for the courts to decide what fine should be imposed, whether a term of imprisonment should be imposed or whether the number of years should be extended from the point of view of mandatory disqualification. It is open to the court to decide on the level of fines, on whether or not to imprison, or extend the length of mandatory disqualification. We looked hard at the question of graduating penalties which seemed attractive. However, on the basis of legal advice on the possibility of opening up legal challenge in an area that is proving to be a minefield, I did not go in that direction but accepted the legal advice as being basically sound. I will convey the views of the House to the Minister for Justice and everything possible will be done to combat non-insured driving which is at an unacceptably high level.

Lest I gave the wrong impression, I wish to take ten seconds to correct something. I was making a comparison between a person who drives without insurance and somebody who is convicted of being above the limit as a result of drinking, perhaps, two pints of Smithwicks. In the latter case the court has no discretion as to whether that person should lose his licence — the minimum disqualification period is one year.

The court has a discretion in regard to the length of time of the disqualification from driving. It can decide whether it is to be for one or two years.

That is true, but a person so convicted must lose his licence whereas in the case of somebody driving without insurance the court does have discretion in regard to disqualification. I find that difficult to understand. We should not be sending out a signal that a person who is slightly over the limit will lose his licence while, at the same time, a person who drives without insurance may not necessarily lose his licence. Driving without insurance is as serious an offence as driving a car while barely over the intoxicated liquor limit.

I explained that I expect the mandatory disqualification to be the norm in those circumstances.

Does the Minister have any figures in regard to where we stand in the league of European countries? Our insurance costs seem exceptionally high.

We are not exceptional. We are around the middle of the league. However, the level here is unacceptable and we must combat that.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 14:

Section 26: In page 20, lines 51 to 53 deleted, and the following substituted:

"period and, unless the court is satisfied that a special reason (which it shall specify when making its order) has been proved by the convicted person to exist in his particular case such that it should not so operate, thereafter until he has produced to the appropriate licensing authority, as may be specified in the order, a certificate of competency or both a certificate of competency and a certificate of fitness".

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 15.

Section 26: In page 21, line 1, "The" deleted and the following substituted:

"(a) Subject to paragraph (b) of this subsection, the".

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 16:

Section 26: In page 21, line 4, "(a)" deleted and (i) substituted.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 17:

Section 26: In page 21, line 5, "(b)" deleted and "(ii)" substituted.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 18:

Section 26: In page 21, line 6, "(c)" deleted and "(iii)" substituted.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 19:

Section 26: In page 21, line 13, "(d)" deleted and "(iv)" substituted.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 20:

Section 26: In page 21, between lines 17 and 18, the following paragraph inserted:

"(b) the period of disqualification specified in a consequential disqualification order shall, where the person to whom the order relates is convicted of an offence under—

(i) section 49 or 50 of this Act, or

(ii) section 13, 14 or 15 of the Road Traffic Act, 1994,

and the court is satisfied that a special reason (which it shall specify when making its order) has been proved by the convicted person to exist in his particular case to justify such a period, be less than 2 years but not less than 1 year in the case of a first offence under the section concerned.".

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 21:

Section 26: In page 21, line 18, "The" deleted and the following substituted:

"(a) Subject to paragraph (b) of this subsection, the".

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 23:

Section 26: In page 21, line 22, "(b)" deleted and "(ii)" substituted.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 24:

Section 26: In page 21, between lines 28 and 29, the following paragraph inserted:

"(b) where a person is convicted of an offence under—

(i) section 53 of this Act tried summarily, or

(ii) section 56 of this Act,

the court may, in the case of a first offence under the section concerned, where it is satisfied that a special reason (which it shall specify when making its order) has been proved by the convicted person to exist in his particular case to justify such a course—

(I) decline to make a consequential disqualification order, or

(II) specify a period of disqualification in the consequential disqualification order of less than 1 year.".

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 25:

Section 26: In page 22, lines 18 and 19 deleted, and the following substituted:

"annulled on appeal unless—

(a) the conviction by reference to which it was imposed is reversed, or

(b) the provisions of subsection (5) (b) of this section apply.".

Question put and agreed to.

We now come to Seanad amendment No. 26. Amendment No. 29 is related. It is suggested, therefore, that amendments Nos. 26 and 29 be taken together.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 26:

Section 33: In page 26, line 16, "Minister" deleted and "National Roads Authority" substituted.

These amendments were agreed by the Seanad in view of the enactment of the Roads Act, 1993 and the establishment of the National Roads Authority. The effect of the amendment is that the local authorities would seek the consent of the NRA instead of the Minister in relation to speed limits and traffic calming measures affecting national roads and motorways. In view of the general role of the NRA, provided for by the Roads Act, 1993, it is appropriate that these functions should be vested in the authority rather than in the Minister.

I do not mean to be contrary but I do not agree that the Seanad should have passed this amendment. The legislation provides that the making of speed limits will be a reserved function of elected members and that is the way it should be. Elected members are answerable to the people and will have to answer if they make a wrong decision. The making of speed limits should, therefore, be a reserved function. As these are national roads and the Minister wants to have a common policy on speed limits on them it is reasonable that he should confirm the making of an order relating to speed limits. However, I do not agree with having an appointed body which is not answerable to anybody revoking a decision made by the elected members of a local authority.

It was unwise of the Minister to forego the power he had which would normally be a rubber stamp job, in that local authorities could not introduce different speed limits in respect of national roads. That power should have been left with the Minister. It is not that the elected members should have power but that the people should have power. The people should be able to ask me or the Minister why we are adopting certain measures, and we should be answerable to them. The roads authority will be in power when the Minister and I and other members have gone, and its members are not answerable to anybody. I do not accept that that should be the case. The Minister was wrong to have had that amendment approved by the Seanad and I ask him not to proceed with it.

This Bill has had a long sojourn in both Houses, over ten months and about 183 amendments were debated of which I accepted more than 70. In spite of differences of opinion on many occasions the debate was conducted in a fair and realistic way. There may have been occasions when I felt I was wrongly done by, but there will never be a Minister for the Environment who will not, on occasion, feel that way. In this instance I took the step of giving more power to the local authorities.

I accept that. I am not arguing about that.

I want local authorities to make decisions relating to traffic management, speed limits etc. without the need for ministerial consent. Why should I decide for Sligo, Letterkenny and so on? The measure was well received by Deputies on all sides of the House. When it comes to the national primary and secondary roads, which are under the control of the National Roads Authority, it is only sensible that the power on the uniform application of speed limits should rest with it. Deputy Barrett's point is out of date by approximately two years. If he had been in that position two years ago he could have stopped me from establishing the National Roads Authority, the control would have remained with the Department of the Environment and the Minister would still have all those powers. However, the conventional wisdom was to establish the National Roads Authority and it is working well. I am delighted with its progress. As it will be funding the implementation of these provisions it is only natural it should be consulted. We agreed on most other matters but we will agree to disagree on this one.

I must correct the Minister. I am not complaining about the National Roads Authority making decisions in regard to the construction and so on of national primary routes. This amendment proposes that a county council or corporation of a county borough may not make by-laws under this section in regard to national roads or motorways without the prior consent of the National Roads Authority. Previously, that consent had to come from the Minister. I support the concept of devolving power to local authorities in regard to the making of by-laws. This is a reserved function of the elected members, yet they have to get the prior consent of the National Roads Authority. The legislation should state "without the prior consent of the Minister". It should be from elected representative to elected representative.

I am grateful for the confidence the Deputy is showing in me, but the power will repose in the National Roads Authority.

That is logical. As the National Roads Authority was set up with special responsibility for national roads and motorways, it is appropriate that matters should be referred to it rather than to the Minister. It would be an anachronism for the Minister to carry out that function having passed the Roads Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 27:

Section 35: In page 28, between lines 20 and 21, the following subsection inserted:

"(4) The making of a resolution pursuant to regulations under subsection (2) (1) shall be a reserved function.".

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 28:

Section 36: In page 31, between lines 23 and 24, the following paragraph inserted:

"(c) The making of a resolution pursuant to paragraph (a) shall be a reserved function.".

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 29:

Section 38: In page 33, subsection (5), line 34, "Minister" deleted and "National Roads Authority" substituted.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment. 30:

Section 48: In page 37, subsection (1), line 35, "theRoad Traffic Acts, 1961 to 1993,” deleted and “section 64 or 115 of the Principal Act” substituted.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 31:

Section 48: In page 38, subsection (3), line 7, "theRoad Traffic Acts, 1961 to 1993,” deleted and “section 64 or 115 of the Principal Act” substituted.

Question put and agreed to.

Amendment No. 32 is consequential on amendment No. 33. It is suggested, therefore, that we take amendments Nos. 32 and 33 together.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 32:

Section 49: In page 38, subsection (1), line 30, "and" deleted.

These amendments propose to insert in the Road Traffic Act, 1961 an amended definition of the term "public place". The change is essentially the addition of paragraph (a) to include in the definition the words "any public road." The amendments are required to deal with an anomaly shown up by a High Court judgment which held that when a public road is pedestrianised it is no longer a public place. I will refrain from saying any more about the need to close loopholes when such circumstances arise. I am sure Deputies will appreciate the necessity to deal with matters in this way.

If a road in a city is pedestrianised that does not mean there will not be vehicular access to it during certain hours. Is that not the norm?

That is correct.

Why make the distinction when there will continue to be vehicular access, although restricted?

The High Court judgment related to the case of a person riding a motor cycle in Grafton Street during pedestrianised hours. Does that clarify the matter for the Deputy?

Incidentally, I was instrumental in pedestrianising Grafton Street in 1971.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 33:

Section 49: In page 38, subsection (1), between lines 30 and 31, the following subparagraph inserted:

"(iv) by the substitution for the definition of `public place' of the following definition:

‘"public place" means—

(a) any public road, and

(b) any street, road or other place to which the public have access with vehicles whether as of right or by permission and whether subject to or free of charge;';

and".

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 34:

Section 49: In page 38, subsection (1), between lines 35 and 36, the following paragraph inserted:

"(b) in section 7—

(i) by the substitution in subsection (1) for ‘under this Act made by the Commissioner and every rule thereunder made by him or a local authority' of ‘and rule made under the Road Traffic Acts, 1961 to 1993' and

(ii) by the substitution in subsection (2) for ‘under this Act made by the Commissioner and rules thereunder made by him or a local authority' of ‘and rules made under the Road Traffic Acts, 1961 to 1993';".

The purpose of this amendment is to apply relevant provisions of the Documentary Evidence Act, 1925 to by-laws made by local authorities. It is necessary to do so to provide a straightforward mechanism for providing the existence of a by-law in any legal proceedings. Section 4 of the Documentary Evidence Act, 1925 provides thatprima facie evidence of rules, orders, regulations or by-laws which apply throughout the whole State may be given in court or in legal proceedings by producing a copy of the printed instrument. Section 6 of that Act deals with offences of forging or printing false copies of such instruments. The 1925 Act did not extend those provisions to local by-laws.

Question put and agreed to.

I move that the Committee agree with the Seanad in amendment No. 35:

Section 49: In page 39, subsection (1), line 4, after "years" the following inserted:

"and, in the case of an offence which is specified in paragraph 8 or 11 of the Second Schedule to this Act, being an offence in respect of which the court has declined, pursuant to section 26 (5) (b) of this Act, to make a disqualification order.".

Question put and agreed to.
Amendments reported and agreed to.

A message will be sent to the Seanad accordingly.

I thank the present and past Front Bench spokespersons for their support for the provisions of this Bill which was fully debated in both Houses. It was published in June 1993 and since then has been debated for a total of 47 hours in 11 days — in the Dáil and Seanad. No time limits or guillotines applied to any Stage of the Bill. On Committee and Report Stages a total of 183 amendments were discussed and 74 were agreed. Many of these amendments were tabled to deal with concerns raised by Opposition Deputies and Senators. I hope the distilled wisdom of Members from both sides of the House has produced an effective road traffic law instrument to deal with the carnage and many other problems on our roads. I hope the provisions which give more powers to local authorities will work well. I am grateful for the support, interest and commitment of Deputies on all sides of the House, but especially that of the Front Bench spokespersons who have had to do a great deal of work in this regard. I have expert facilities in terms of the staff of my Department who have worked tirelessly since the Bill was introduced. They worked late into the night on many occasions to deal with amendments. I thank those officials for carrying out an extraordinary amount of work and for burning the midnight oil when necessary.

I thank the Minister for his kind words, particularly in regard to my predecessor who did the bulk of the work on this legislation. There was much debate, argument and difference of opinion, which is typical when dealing with this type of legislation. It is difficult to strike an acceptable balance for the middle ground in society. The Bill imposes fairly stringent provisions on members of the public who drink and drive.

I hope people will realise the new regulations are in the common interest. If people are being asked not to drive having consumed alcohol we have an obligation, as legislators, to ensure other modes of transport are available. People should be able to enjoy life and not have to drive home having consumed alcohol. Taxis and other forms of public transport should also be available at a cheap rate and people encouraged to use them. In rural areas transport is often not available to meet the demand. We do not wish to be killjoys but public transport or private car services should be provided cheaply to make the new regulations effective.

I can visualise standing outside Hamiltons in Leenane at 11.15 p.m. on a cold wet wintry night waiting for the taxi which Deputy Barrett says is readily available.

I did not say it was readily available.

Those words demonstrate the different outlooks of people in Dublin and rural areas in respect of this legislation.

I said it should be available.

The Bill is extensive and updates many aspects of road traffic legislation. Its main feature is the stringent new regulations governing drink driving laws. When the Bill is enacted it is important that its regulations be scientifically and professionally monitored to ensure its intent is achieved. It will have a dramatic effect on those who relax over a few drinks with friends at home in a public house or an hotel. There is a need for strict legislation in this area to save lives. We must at all times seek to ensure there is a relationship between legislation introduced and its objective which is to save lives. We must not be seen as killjoys by enacting legislation that may be seen to be too rigid and not achieving its desired objective. All Deputies support the legislation and hope it will have the desired objective. This legislation should not be put on the stocks and forgotten. The Bill when enacted should be monitored by the Minister's Department in close contact with the Garda and the courts to ensure its provisions are implemented. I wish to be associated with the remarks made by the Minister and Deputy Barrett in relation to the work done by the spokespersons of the various parties on this matter, including Deputy Keogh, the spokesperson for my party. I compliment the Minister of State, Deputy Stagg, on his work in this regard.