It is nice to see the Minister of State back as a full Minister this evening.
This is a very important motion. I do not know where the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, is tonight. If there is anywhere he should be it is here, and his absence is to be regretted, although that is no reflection on the Minister of State.
I wish to put the record straight concerning the promises made by the Government and what it did and did not do. I pay tribute to the members of Public Against Road Carnage, PARC, particularly Mrs. Susan Gray and Mrs. Ann Fogarty, who are chairpersons of PARC in their respective areas, both of whom have suffered tragic losses of family members due to road traffic accidents. Without their commitment and determination to pursue the Taoiseach and all politicians with the aim of achieving the introduction of mandatory testing for alcohol and drugs at accident scenes, it would never have happened.
Before the election, on 30 April, the Taoiseach stated in response to representations from PARC:
Taking account of the concerns raised by PARC and other groups, Fianna Fáil recognise the need to introduce compulsory drink and drug testing for drivers involved in accidents causing injury. If re-elected we will ensure that these changes are implemented without delay.
That was before the election. The scene now shifts to one month later, after the election, when the Taoiseach again wrote to PARC, stating:
As reliable technology becomes available internationally, I assure you that this Government will move without delay to introduce it. Over the coming months and years, I look forward to working with groups such as PARC.
However, he did not commit to the immediate introduction of these changes.
Let us move on to the reply of the Minister, Deputy Dempsey, to a Dáil Question for oral answer on 28 June. Deputy Dempsey stated:
The Road Traffic Acts provide that a member of the Garda Síochána may require a person in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle to provide a preliminary breath specimen where the vehicle is involved in a road collision. Garda discretion in relation to the use of preliminary roadside tests in such circumstances is necessary, having regard to possible injuries sustained, and I do not propose to alter that position.
Thus, the Government's policy on 28 June was that there would be no change in the current arrangements. The Minister, whom I welcome to the Chamber, stated that he would not budge. Those are the facts as we go into the debate. I have put them clearly before the people.
Let us examine the record on road deaths in the recent past. In the months of August and September this year, 54 people died on our roads. In the same months in 2006, 40 people died. Whatever the reason, the number has risen significantly. Critically, a European report stated last week, in regard to Ireland's record in reducing road deaths, that there had been an 11% reduction in road deaths since 2001. This is to be welcomed, as any life saved is worthwhile. One might think this was a fine record until one examined the reductions achieved in other European countries. For example, in France a reduction of 42% was achieved over the same period. In Portugal, the reduction was also 42%, while in Luxembourg it was 48%. Compared to other European countries, the Government does not have a good record in reducing road deaths. We are not doing enough. The Government is failing in its strategy.
The Road Safety Strategy was first put in the public domain as a proposal last October. It is now a year later, and the strategy is not yet before us as the Government is delaying it. It is reprehensible that it has taken a year to produce a new road safety strategy, notwithstanding the consultations that have taken place. If we examine the number of penalty points applied to people due to their bad driving, we see that 440,000 drivers have received points since their introduction. However, many of these penalty points cannot be applied. Around 108,000 people, one in four of the total number who received points, are immune as they have out-of-State driving licences. A significant minority of people cannot be issued with penalty points because they do not have Irish driving licences.
The AA, in its submission to the Department some months ago, which the Minister has no doubt read, mentioned the possibility of a parallel licensing process. Under this proposed system, if an out-of-State licence holder is issued with penalty points by the Garda, the number of his or her licence is obtained and a parallel licence is immediately set up, so that if the person receives further penalty points in this jurisdiction they may be applied. Effectively, the person may be banned from our roads in exactly the same fashion as an Irish driver. This has not yet happened under the Government, but we are waiting.
The Minister may claim, as his Government has claimed in the past, that mandatory testing at the scene of accidents could not be introduced. Let us examine what happens in Northern Ireland. All drivers involved in road traffic accidents to which the PSNI responds are breathalysed. This is a PSNI service-wide policy, and has a basis in legislation. For example, the Road Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 states:
If an accident occurs owing to the presence of a motor vehicle on a road or other public place, a constable may, subject to Article 20, require any person who he has reasonable cause to believe was driving or attempting to drive or in charge of the vehicle at the time of the accident to provide a specimen of breath for a preliminary breath test.
The law in the South does not allow that because the garda must have formed an opinion that the person who was driving or attempting to drive the vehicle had been taking alcohol. The Minister is out of touch with what is happening in the other part of this country.
An article in The Irish Times on 26 July last stated that England has one of the worst records in western Europe for child pedestrian fatalities. The facts reveal that British drivers kill approximately twice as many child pedestrians per head of population as drivers in France, Italy, Germany, Finland and Norway. Only Austria, Portugal, Poland and Ireland fare worse than Britain. Ireland is again at the bottom of the list in terms of safety and protecting our child pedestrians. Clearly, the Government is failing miserably in attempting to bring about the same fundamental changes in driver behaviour that has occurred in many European countries. It has broken promises that it made in the general election. The Taoiseach has broken his promise and the Minister has backtracked on what he said.
The Government amendment praises the Government for what it has done but it has not done enough. In particular, I take no comfort from the Minister's point that the report shows that road deaths in Ireland have dropped by 11% since 2001. Although I welcome the reduction in road deaths, compared to other countries, that figure is not good enough.
The Minister's amendment "... notes that the Department of Transport and the Marine proposes to engage with the Office of the Attorney General to establish how the current legislation can be amended to achieve roadside testing of drivers involved in serious accidents subject to overriding medical circumstances". That is the most important paragraph in the amendment to this motion and it is welcome. However, it is a humiliating U-turn from the Minister for Transport. Now, he is listening to PARC and to the Fine Gael motion which is succeeding in giving the people what they want — mandatory testing at accidents where injuries are caused. I will repeat what the Minister stated because he was not here when I read it into the record.