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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 6 Mar 2008

Vol. 649 No. 3

Other Questions.

Public Transport.

Leo Varadkar


6 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Transport if he will introduce legislation to effect more competition in the bus market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9728/08]

Sean Sherlock


18 Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Transport if he has plans to reform the 1932 bus licensing laws; if he will confirm that he will drop plans for the part-privatisation of the bus sector in the greater Dublin region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9632/08]

Ulick Burke


35 Deputy Ulick Burke asked the Minister for Transport the changing policy conditions that led to his announcement that all plans to introduce competition into the Dublin bus market have been abandoned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9672/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6, 18 and 35 together. I refer Deputy O'Dowd to the reply to Priority Question No. 3.

Plans to introduce competition into the Dublin bus market have not been abandoned. The Government is committed to seeing the further expansion and enhancement of public bus services and wants to see a world class service delivered to all citizens. Moreover, the Government is wholeheartedly committed to getting best value for the travelling public and the taxpayer from significant subsidies being invested by the Exchequer in public bus services operated by Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann.

In order to achieve this, we have identified in the Agreed Programme for Government a number of priorities. The programme for Government contains a commitment to expedite the establishment of a Dublin transport authority, DTA, which will have the necessary powers to ensure the delivery of the integrated public transport system envisioned under Transport 21. It is my intention to bring the Dublin transport authority Bill to Cabinet shortly for approval to publish early next session.

In terms of the subvented bus market, the DTA Bill will set out the mechanisms for the award of contracts for this subvention in line with the new regime introduced under the new EU public service obligations, PSO, regulation, which will become mandatory from next year.

The programme for Government also includes a commitment to improving bus services under Transport 21 by reforming the bus licensing provisions of the Road Transport Act 1932, to facilitate the optimum provision of services by providing a level playing field for all market participants, both public and private. It is my intention that plans for a new bus licensing regime will follow in subsequent legislative proposals. Any new licensing regime will be designed in a manner consistent with the new EU regulation on PSO in the transport sector, which was adopted in 2007 and will come into force next year.

While it is not possible to indicate a precise time as to when the legislative proposals on regulatory reform of the bus market will be published, applications for new bus licences and notifications from State bus operators will continue to be processed under the provisions of the Road Transport Act 1932, as amended, and the notification system with reference to the Transport Act 1958, as appropriate.

I welcome the proposal to change the licensing regime, in particular. Opening up the bus market is an important issue and we all support it. Allowing people to tender for a franchise is very important. In that context, I believe the State subsidy for Bus Éireann is €60 million a year, but I will stand corrected if the figure is not right. The point is that we do not know how many of those buses are PSOs. We need to know which routes are PSO and which are not, so that there is fair and proper competition. We must protect the interests of the taxpayer.

If private operators are prepared to tender openly for a franchise or a route, they need to have an opportunity to bid for PSO routes as well, if necessary. The key principle of Government, with which I have no problem, is that a significant proportion must be protected by keeping it in the hands of Dublin Bus. I have no difficulty with that. However, new commuters from conurbations around Dublin need more buses. Bus Éireann cannot provide them, so private operators are entitled to compete and get into the market. The quicker the legislation is in place the happier we shall be.

Currently a private operator can submit a licence application for any route he or she believes money is to be made on. There is no problem about that. In recent years in particular, the Department has tried to streamline procedures. The 1932 Act, to which the Deputy refers, is very outdated. It is very much a subjective type of approach to bus licensing, there are no appeals mechanisms and neither are there are any real penalties for those in breach of it. It requires reform.

As I told the Deputy earlier, in this whole area of public transport we need to prioritise. To attempt to do everything at once is a recipe for failure. It would be a help to have the DTA in place to allow it to regulate the bus market and check out a number of the areas the Deputy touched on. I have impressed on both Dublin Bus and its unions that the people in the greater Dublin area, and indeed Ireland, want an efficient and effective public transport system. As Minister I must ensure that taxpayers, who are paying the subvention — more than €300 million between all the CIE companies — get value for money.

I have a difficulty and it is something we are investigating in parallel to the DTA preparations, and the Deputy is right about this. I should know, and so should CIE and the taxpayer, which routes need to be subvented, and which do not. We are trying to find this out currently, and I am very committed. While people talk to me about the London model of public transport, I tend to look further afield. There is a good German model, which is a largely public sector-owned transport system. We have something of a mix, and that is no harm. However, my current priorities are to get the DTA in place, ensuring we get value for money, and reforming the 1932 Act, and I shall take them in that order.

Fianna Fáil has been in Government for 11 years. First, we heard Deputy O'Rourke as Minister for Public Enterprise, followed by Deputy Brennan, then Deputy Cullen and now Deputy Dempsey talk about a Dublin transport authority. These were 11 long wasted years and people are still waiting at the bus stop. The person waiting at the bus stop does not care about the right wing ideology proffered today by Fine Gael, or by the Minister. All they want is to get the bus. The Minister's right wing ideology, backed up by the Progressive Democrats, has held up the development of the fleets of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann. Before the general election, the Labour Party proposed an increase in the fleet by at least 50%, or 500 buses, to ensure all new areas of the city, and other cities such as Cork and Limerick, would have an adequate service. However, the Government dithered repeatedly.

We will not be considering the Dublin Transport Authority Bill this session and the Minister is going to Australia. Will the Bill be introduced after Easter? The Minister is now talking about another Bill. He told CIE one thing and The Sunday Business Post another, and he is now telling us something different. All in all, nothing has been achieved. We want to get the buses on the road because, as the Minister knows, we must depend on them until major infrastructure comes on stream in 2015. Only buses can provide the backbone of public transport and it is the Minister’s job to provide them. He should forget about the ideology, be it that of Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil or the Progressive Democrats, and get the fleet up to scratch. Let us have a decent fleet. At present, people are waiting for such a fleet in Swords, which is likely to have 100,000 people, Blanchardstown, Tallaght, other parts of Dublin, the north and south of Cork city, Limerick and Galway. The routes are frozen and the State bus company is not allowed to add to its fleet.

I remind Deputy O'Dowd that the subsidy to Dublin Bus is the lowest given to any major operator in the European Union. It is the Minister's job to provide the buses to transport passengers to work, school or hospital. He should stop dithering and talking. We could have passed the relevant legislation 11 years ago and, therefore, what is happening is a complete nonsense.

I am delighted Deputy Broughan got that off his chest. I was wondering how long it would take him today. I am surprised the Deputy believes my view that we should have a public transport system akin to that in Germany represents right-wing ideology. It is more to the left.

A few weeks ago, the Minister told The Sunday Business Post he was to do the opposite. He does not know where he stands.

I am probably to the left of the Deputy on many issues, despite all his semantics and rantings in the House.

The Minister certainly was not to the left on student fees.

I will not buy extra buses given that, because of a variety of practices, I am pretty certain I am not getting value for those in the fleet at present. I will not provide them to Dublin Bus——

The Minister should outline the practices.

I will not. The Deputy should consult some of his friends in Liberty Hall or some such place.

They might be able to tell the Deputy some of the factors.

I talk to the commuters and they say exactly what the Deputy says, that is, they do not care who provides the buses and just want them on the routes.

The buses should be provided. This could have been addressed 11 years ago.

I happen to believe we should have the public service buses on the routes. If the Deputy wants me to start putting buses on routes, I can do so at his request, but——

Dublin Bus wants 350 buses but the Minister will not give them to it.

Who says the existing ones are being used effectively? Neither I nor the Deputy knows the answer to that and I will not spend taxpayers' money — €250,000 on every bus and €80,000 in current expenditure — until I know I am getting value for the buses currently in operation.

I agree with the Deputy that we need a good bus service. We need more routes, including radial and orbital routes, and we need to ensure that when we commence the works in the city centre under Transport 21, we will have a bus service we can stand over and which will accommodate passengers throughout the city.

We want to try to keep the traffic in the city flowing. The only way this can be achieved is through a flexible public transport system with flexible works, not with nonsense involving 25 or 30 buses parked on Marlborough Street, Parnell Square or O'Connell Street taking up road space while the drivers go to have a cup of tea. That is not the kind of service I want to provide. Most people do not want that, be they employed by Dublin Bus or another organisation. I want a good, efficient, economical bus service that can be delivered to the public with flexibility. This is what the public wants and what I will give it.

I commend the Minister on his work on keeping the House informed about his various reforms. He has been a reforming Minister in all the Departments for which he has been responsible and I commend him in this regard. He is taking the right approach by establishing the Dublin Transportation Authority and reforming the 1932 Act. It is a surprise that it has not yet been reformed but that is the fault of many Governments of many political hues.

The Deputy's grandfather tried to reform it.

Deputy Broughan is out of order in every sense of the word.

He closed down the railways. He had the same surname as the Deputy.

The Deputy should speak through the Chair.

I am sure my grandfather would be very proud to know his name is still being invoked in Leinster House so many years later.

And protected.

He closed down the railways.

I am very proud of him.

During the week, an issue arose regarding the popular Patton Flyer bus service from Dún Laoghaire to Dublin Airport. This has been operating very successfully and is not in conflict with any other service. Given the reforms taking place, the fact that we are adopting an alternative approach and the fact that an application for a licence has been lodged with the Department for some time, flexibility should be afforded in this case. Although the operator does not have a licence, the service provides a link to the airport and is not in conflict with another route.

Metro West is to extend as far as Tallaght. Can I use the name "Tallaght" in the presence of the Acting Chairman, Deputy Charlie O'Connor? I believe he has a copyright on it. It has been argued that Metro West should extend from Tallaght to Sandyford so there would be connectivity with the Luas. The Minister spoke of radial links and this is one that needs to be extended entirely around the city.

I was hoping the Deputy would ask a question.

Deputy Andrews is quite correct in that the Patton Flyer does not have a licence. It makes a mockery of the transport system that an excellent and very effective service by a private operator must operate illegally. The Minister said the last reform he will introduce will be to the 1932 Act but it should be the first.

I agree with the Minister in that I do not care whether the bus is red, white or blue. It is important to passengers that there be buses available, that we protect the interests of the taxpayer and that the buses in place operate effectively and efficiently. If this is right-wing thinking, I am all in favour of it because it looks after the consumer, the traveller and the ordinary person. All the other ideologies, such as the Kremlin ideologies, are long gone. I do not know if Deputy Broughan knows that even Russia has changed.

Private operators applied to use the Dublin Port tunnel but it took a very long time to grant permission. When Dublin Bus wanted to use it, it was not allowed to do so. The whole system is a joke. Any bus that wants to use the tunnel should be allowed to do so, provided it can pass through it. The stops should be at the bus stops and not in the tunnel.

Let us have a modern, dynamic transport system in Dublin. Let us free up the market and have competition and let us have people in buses rather than cars.

Nobody is stopping anybody from using the tunnel. It is open to any operator provided it has a licence and approval. We licensed the operation of a bus service between Swords and Dublin city via the tunnel. Dublin Bus has been advised that a proposal to reroute four of its six services on the 41X route from Swords through the tunnel must be considered under section 25 of the Transport Act 1958. We have not received an application for consent in that regard.

Is that not a delaying tactic?

The Minister is correct.

It must be a delaying tactic. I cannot understand why Dublin Bus would introduce a delaying tactic by not applying for consent.

It is his Department.

I cannot make a decision on a licence or an approval when they do not apply. It would be better if, instead of writing in to me, they wrote to Bus Átha Cliath and sent e-mails, or wrote to Mr. Joe Duffy or somebody else. If they sent them in to Bus Átha Cliath, they could state that they wanted the company to apply for this so that I can approve it.

I must ask the Minister to conclude.

On the other operation, nobody in this House should condone anybody who is breaking the law, even if the law is inadequate. The 1932 Act is not being adhered to. It is an offence and it must be dealt with accordingly. All the reports I received about the service were that it is top class, but it is an illegal service.

May I make a brief final point?

We are out of time, but very quickly.

Does the Minister anticipate that the licensing Bill will be before the House in 2008?

"Yes" or "No"?

I do not know.

It will depend on the progress we make on the DTA.

If the Deputy wants me to bring it in, he should consult a little more widely before requesting me to do so.

Park and Ride Facilities.

Frank Feighan


7 Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for Transport the funding available from his Department for the provision of park and ride facilities for commuters; the amount requested for such facilities each year to date in 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9704/08]

Alan Shatter


12 Deputy Alan Shatter asked the Minister for Transport his Department’s policy on the provision of park and ride facilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9746/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 and 12 together.

It is my Department's policy to strongly support the role of park and ride facilities in encouraging people to transfer from private cars to public transport. In 2002, a DTO study on bus-based park and ride concluded that it has only a limited role to play in Dublin because of the city's size and consequent distances. Nonetheless, where there is a sound business case, my Department will consider funding appropriate bus-based park and ride facilities.

In 2005, my predecessor endorsed a DTO plan for rail-based park and ride in the greater Dublin area. This plan envisages a network of new or improved parking facilities at 22 sites on the existing and proposed rail network in the greater Dublin area.

Under Transport 21, funding is available for the development of park and ride facilities by Iarnród Éireann, the RPA and local authorities in the greater Dublin area and the regional cities, either as stand-alone projects or as part of larger rail-based investments.

Some €5 million was made available to local authorities in the greater Dublin area in 2006 for park and ride facilities, with a further €1 million in both 2007 and 2008. No applications for this funding were received in 2006 or 2007. I am currently awaiting proposals from local authorities for 2008 spending.

In 2006, over €10.9 million was made available to Iarnród Eireann for park and ride facilities at its stations in both the greater Dublin area and in the regions, while €4.1 million was available for this purpose in 2007.

No specific figures are available for Luas sites as park and ride site costs are included in their overall project budgets.

In 2006, €2.6 million was paid to Iarnród Éireann to carry out two feasibility studies to examine 34 station car parks in order to develop a prioritised investment programme, as well as for upgrading and increasing the capacity of rail station car parks and to progress planning and design work at a number of stations identified in the studies above. In 2007, some €3.7 million was paid to Iarnród Éireann to upgrade and expand the capacity of rail station car parks and as approved projects are completed, additional funding is being provided.

The park and ride sites associated with the proposed Luas and Metro lines in Transport 21 will open at the same time that the lines open for passenger services. These sites are determined by the RPA when individual railway order applications are submitted for the various lines and the cost of park and ride facilities is included in the overall budgets for the relevant lines.

I am awaiting proposals from local authorities in the greater Dublin area in respect of funding for park and ride facilities for the current year.

Funding is available to the local authorities in the regional cities for bus priority and park and ride measures. It is a matter for the local authorities to prioritise projects and apply to my Department for funding. To date under Transport 21, the local authorities in these cities have been focused on developing bus priority, which is an essential prerequisite for the operation of successful bus-based park and ride facilities.

I thank the Minister for his reply. I live in Gorey, as he may or may not know. It is a pity that they did not spend some of the €2.6 million and €3.7 million on building the car park instead of putting together a feasibility study on it.

There is a lack of foresight. The Minister did not really discuss the matter of a bus-based park and ride facility. There are a number of people who are able to drive the 40 or 50 miles to get to the periphery of the city — I refer primarily to Dublin. One gets to the periphery of this city in less than an hour and then one spends the next hour——

——plus trying to get in the last six, seven or eight miles. The Minister touched on it, but I did not catch exactly what he said.

A significant cost must be borne by the State, whether through the land being in State possession or the State having to purchase the land, to make available large open-space car parks on the periphery of the city and then to make the buses available from the car parks via the bus lanes into the city. One only travels five to seven miles in the last 90 minutes in the car and any of us who travel from the countryside to this House realise that is the problem. I am sure the Acting Chairman does so.

I agree with Deputy D'Arcy. I have been disappointed with the lack of progress on precisely the kind of park and ride facilities he mentioned. I am not sure that the study completed in 2002, which seemed to pour a little cold water on the idea of bus-based park and rides, still holds true at this stage and I have asked officials in the Department to examine this matter. We all come from the greater Dublin area, one way or another, and given the increase in population and traffic, the issue should be revisited.

The committee questioned the county managers recently. I would dearly like to see more park and ride facilities in the vicinity of Dublin, even as far out as Deputy D'Arcy suggests. People do not want to sit in their cars for a period of time. If one can get to a bus, rail or Luas station, such facilities should be available. People will leave their cars there and as the transport system improves in the city, including with buses, they will increasingly use such facilities.

One element of it is park and ride and when those facilities are available where the Deputy suggests, one needs the frequent regular bus service that uses the bus lanes. Once people have that certainty, they will move forward.

South County Dublin County Council submitted a significant application for a park and ride facility but it was shot down because it was not in accordance with the development plan. I was disappointed, but it was a matter for the board which had its reasons. I agree with the Deputy that we need to fast-track this issue.

I suggest the Minister write to the NRA or to the relevant local authorities to see whether there are off-cuts of land that may be suitable for this type of development close to motorway intersections. One would never know what could happen. Perhaps private enterprise could become involved. People are sitting on money out there because they are not prepared to go into the residential construction business at present. Perhaps there is an opportunity in this area, whether through a PPP or through Government backing. If the land belongs to the State and if somebody is prepared to open up such a facility, we could save thousands of man hours through people not having to sit in their cars.

My experience, and I imagine that of other Deputies including the Acting Chairman, regarding this saga in Dublin about park and ride facilities for the DART and commuter rail and bus-based park and rides is that the local authorities and CIE play pass the parcel. When people try to pursue a development with CIE, it passes the matter on to the local authority and vice versa. Does the Minister agree that up until recently, there was no coherence in this regard?

The Joint Committee on Transport discussed this matter with eight county managers including four managers from Dublin and one from Meath. Has the Minister taken a similar initiative to encourage them to take action? The point was made earlier that we must provide regular and swift bus services from park and ride facilities. I was interested to hear the South Dublin County Manager had applied for a bus licence to operate the park and ride facility from the park. Would the Minister encourage this type of action?

What level of funding is provided under Transport 21 for park and ride facilities?

As regards An Bord Pleanála policy and the specific refusal of the application mentioned, it is the policy of An Bord Pleanála to take on board stated Government policy in respect of incineration and other major national infrastructural projects. Has the Government written to An Bord Pleanála stating it is Government policy to encourage park and ride facilities? If not, will the Minister do so immediately?

An Bord Pleanála must take into account and have regard for Government policy but it cannot ignore a local development plan which was the problem in this case.

It does and did so on incineration.

It cannot do so. I will take up the matter with An Bord Pleanála although in a general sense only and not in terms of specifics.

On Deputy Broughan's point, I agree that some councils on the periphery of Dublin and some of the Dublin councils have been playing pass the parcel a little in respect of this issue being one for the transport company rather than them. However, that has changed. I have spoken with the CCMA, the representative body of managers, and have emphasised the need for integrated thinking in respect of transport in terms of park and ride facilities, etc..

Deputy Broughan referred to the application by South Dublin County Manager, Mr. Joe Horan, for a bus licence. Cork County Council has licensed a bus operator and the service is operating successfully on a public private partnership, PPP, basis.

On Deputy D'Arcy's point, I will pursue with the NRA and local authorities whether there are parcels of land available that might be suitable for the type of facilities mentioned.

Air Services.

Michael Creed


8 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Transport the changes he is considering in Irish aviation policy to counter potential disruption to air passengers in the event of future industrial action in the sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9688/08]

Government policy on industrial relations is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. Industrial relations are primarily a matter for the parties involved and I have no function in this regard. There is a well-established structure for resolution of industrial relations disputes between employers and employees through the Labour Relations Commission and the Labour Court.

I assume the Deputy is referring in particular to the recent dispute concerning air traffic controllers employed by the Irish Aviation Authority. I note that the Labour Relations Commission and the Labour Court promptly assisted the parties in seeking to resolve the issues in dispute. I understand a Labour Court recommendation issued on 25 February is being considered by both parties. I hope the dispute can be resolved quickly on the basis of that recommendation.

I am informed that the IAA has a continuity of service agreement in place with staff which conforms to the Labour Relations Commission code of practice on dispute procedures including procedures in essential services. The agreement which is renewed every three years provides for local internal negotiations in the first instance, followed by referral of outstanding disputes to the Labour Relations Commission-Labour Court. The agreement provides that no strikes or other action designed to bring pressure to bear on either party should take place while the parties are working through the procedures. Where strike notice is being served on the IAA, a minimum notice period of 14 days is required.

In the event of strike action by air traffic controllers, the IAA has in place contingency safety arrangements for the management of Irish airspace. These arrangements provide that en route airspace will remain open, without Irish air traffic controller input, so that overflying traffic would not be affected. Emergency traffic would also be accommodated at Irish airports. However, under current arrangements a strike would inevitably result in disruption to traffic to and from State and regional airports.

Clearly there has been some disruption to air services due to recent action by air traffic controllers but this should be the exception rather than the rule as such action is contrary to the continuity of service agreement. I understand that the agreement is due to be reviewed in September 2008 and I expect that the IAA will consider the improvements needed to ensure effective continuity of service in the light of recent experience.

In respect of the three State airports of Dublin, Cork and Shannon, I understand that the Dublin Airport Authority has an agreement in place with the union side that deals with such contingencies. The agreement which is registered with the Labour Court provides for a no strike clause in respect of potential industrial action by the fire and police emergency services during the lifetime of the agreement. Issues relating to the scope or alteration of the agreement are resolved through the normal third party mechanisms and, if necessary, through binding recommendation of the Labour Court. In the event of an air traffic control dispute, the DAA has arrangements in place to manage the impact on passengers to protect their safety and security in the airport in the event of sudden flight cancellations.

The key point is that there is in place a no strike clause at Dublin Airport in respect of workers involved in transport. Obviously, the air traffic controllers are not party to this agreement. We must ensure, through the negotiating system and the national talks on partnership that key transport workers, like air traffic controllers, are party to a no strike clause in whatever agreements are reached. Other key workers in the transport industry at Dublin Airport are party to such an agreement.

Potential strikes, particularly in the aviation industry, affect hundreds of thousands of people. There are almost 800 flights per day in and out of this country. Thousands of people were affected by the recent air traffic controllers threatened strike. They had to change their travel dates and could not do the business they were scheduled to do on the day causing them great uncertainty. We are a modern dynamic economy and we must ensure that key transport workers such as air traffic controllers cannot strike. We must ensure in this regard that there is in place an agreement such as that already negotiated for other workers in the same industry.

Ryanair operates a no strike clause as part of its general system. Will the Minister agree that withholding wage increases agreed under the national agreements, as threatened by Aer Lingus, is a retrograde step?

On the board of Aer Lingus, has the Government appointed its State directors? If so, will the Minister inform us who has been appointed?

On the latter point, the two Government nominees to the board of Aer Lingus were appointed approximately three or four weeks ago. They are Mr. Colin Hunt and Mr. Chris Wall.

Chris Wall is a Fianna Fáil man.

The Taoiseach will be kept well informed.

I believe everybody should abide, in letter and spirit, to negotiated agreements. Any disagreement should be resolved through the established channels. That applies to Aer Lingus, air traffic controllers and the IAA. On the specific question raised by Deputy O'Dowd, I agree that it would be useful if, when dealing with something as essential as the air traffic control system, a genuine no strike clause could be inserted and fully adhered to by all sides.

Road Traffic Offences.

John Deasy


9 Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Transport if he will introduce changes to the fixed charge penalty system as recommended to his Department by the Courts Service in its submission on the statement of strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9693/08]

The suggestions for consideration that the Courts Service sets out in its submission to my Department are predicated on a fixed charge sum having the same legal status as a monetary fine imposed by a court following conviction of an offence. This is not the case. Therefore, on those grounds, most of the suggestions made are not legally feasible. It must be borne in mind that the fixed charge system applies to offences that come under the criminal law system. The vital distinction is that whereas a fine levied by a court following conviction is a monetary penalty, that is, a debt amount due and owed by the person concerned, a fixed charge is an amount that a person may opt to pay in lieu of being prosecuted in court. A person is not under a legal obligation to pay a fixed charge.

I appreciate that the Courts Service is seeking to reduce the number of fixed charge offences going into the court prosecution system where a fixed charge has not been paid within the statutory 56-day period. The suggestion that a fixed charge be automatically owed and that an onus should be placed on the recipient of a fixed charge notice to indicate that he or she wishes to go to court as opposed to having this the default position is to be examined, as is the feasibility of the suggestion that a driver licence number be recorded when a car is being taxed.

More generally, my Department has written to the Courts Service recently and all other stakeholder agencies and Departments involved in the road safety strategy to elicit any and all suggestions for possible inclusion in the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill that I will be progressing in the latter half of this year. Suggestions received from agencies, including the Courts Service, such as the issues I have referred to, will be the subject of consultation between my officials and the other agencies concerned.

I will permit Deputy O'Dowd to speak but we have very little time remaining.

In the first six months of last year 88,000 people did not pay their fine within 56 days. Each one of those cases proceeded through the District Court. Probably about 160,000 cases came before the District Courts in the past 12 months. This means that they cannot cope and the entire system is breaking down. Up to 500,000 notices could be issued per annum following the introduction of speed cameras. Unless the Minister changes the system, the courts system simply will not work. The most significant problem is caused by the cohorts who do not pay their fines and decide to go to court. Of these, about 125,000 do not have a driving licence and about 10,000 do not have insurance. About 3,000 or 4,000 are caught driving with a mobile phone in their hand. A significant cohort is are escaping. If one does not pay one's fine, a summons will not be served. In the order of 40,000 court summonses were not delivered in the first six months of last year. The process needs urgent and radical reform; otherwise, the court system will grind to a halt and those who deserve it most will get away with everything.

Is there scope for expanding the remit of the national vehicle driver file and using it as the rock on which misdemeanours will be listed and followed up? Has the Minister done any more work on the mutual recognition of penalty points with the authorities in Northern Ireland and other jurisdictions?

On the last question posed by Deputy Broughan, I am not sure if I reported to the House since I met my counterpart in the United Kingdom. We have since met at the North-South Ministerial Council. The matter was discussed at each of those meetings. A tripartite meeting with my counterpart in the United Kingdom, Mr. Jim Fitzpatrick, and Ms Arlene Foster will probably take place in early April to finalise the timescale.

In the context of a new road traffic Bill, the suggestions the Courts Service has made which have been reiterated by Deputy O'Dowd will be considered. There may be a difficulty posed by a person's constitutional right to go to court. We must look at this issue.

On the point made about the use of licence numbers, I am in favour of any system that will get us to a position where the maximum information can be obtained. The legislation should be in place in order that driving licence numbers, PPS numbers and so on can be used across systems for these purposes. Obviously, that is not within my direct remit but the issue needs to be discussed and finalised. It would help to streamline systems.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.