Road Safety Authority (Commercial Vehicle Roadworthiness) Bill 2012 [Seanad]: Second Stage

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Bill that I am introducing to the House will establish a legislative framework for commercial vehicle roadworthiness testing, or CVR, in the State. It will see the functions of local authorities on CVR being assumed by the Road Safety Authority, RSA. It will also provide for a change to the administrative arrangements associated with the processing of driver licences and the management of the driving licensing service. Again, this function is transferring from the local authorities and will be centralised with the designation of the RSA as the licensing authority under Part III of the Road Traffic Act 1961. The provisions relating to the two areas will bring about significant and positive changes to the way in which each is operated and managed. That will result in major service improvements for all users. In relation to CVR, the Bill will provide for a new licensing or authorisation system in respect of test centres and authorised testers, as well as greater powers of enforcement through targeted roadside inspections and inspections of commercial operators' premises in respect of vehicle maintenance and roadworthiness.

The administrative change to driver licences will also provide the necessary support for the introduction of a plastic card driving licence in Ireland at the beginning of 2013. The reforms being delivered on foot of the Bill will result in significant savings and a more efficient and focused service to the public. These initiatives are important elements of the Department's action plan under the Croke Park agreement. I commend the leadership and commitment shown by all those involved in delivering the reforms, particularly the local authorities and the RSA. These are challenging times and we must recognise all those who are working to deliver the types of service change that underpin the Bill.

Before I get into the detail of the Bill, I wish to explain the background from which these proposals emerged. A number of years ago the nation's attention was grabbed by the occurrence of a number of high profile collisions involving commercial vehicles, some with tragic consequences. The Kentstown bus crash, when five young school girls lost their lives, shone a light on certain issues, including the condition of commercial vehicles using the roads and that collision, in particular, acted as a trigger for the development of the current CVR reform programme which is based on recommendations that emerged from a comprehensive review undertaken by independent consultants on behalf of the RSA. The review was initiated at the request of the former Minister for Transport, Mr. Noel Dempsey, and the recommendations were subsequently approved by the Department.

The recommendations involved, primarily, two courses of action that would seek to raise the overall standard of commercial vehicle testing across the country on a permanent basis. The first was to undertake a complete overhaul of the CVR testing system. In order to do this successfully, a three-strand approach was recommended that, first and foremost, would address the testing process to ensure roadworthiness tests were conducted impartially and correctly at all times. It was also recommended that this approach would encompass a programme of roadside inspections to ensure continuous compliance with roadworthiness standards and, most importantly, introduce operator premises checks and intelligence led targeting of operators based on risk.

The second course of action was the transfer of responsibility for the management and operation of the commercial vehicle testing system from local authorities to the Road Safety Authority. Currently, commercial vehicles undergo an annual roadworthiness test at authorised testing centres which are privately operated garages and the local authorities authorise and supervise these centres within their areas.

The two elements of the reform are inextricably linked and necessary if we are to meet the overall objective of the transformation programme which will make a step change in the quality of commercial vehicles using Irish roads. In meeting that objective we can also expect to improve road safety, reduce congestion, ensure fair competition, develop a much greater awareness of road safety issues and promote a culture of safety within the transport industry in respect of the use and maintenance of commercial vehicles, including trailers.

Many in the industry have claimed that commercial pressures have led to some operators cutting corners in terms of vehicle maintenance and compliance with required vehicle standards, thus providing such operators with an unfair commercial advantage. This is not hearsay and the claims are supported by RSA-Garda enforcement activity and reports from enforcement authorities in other EU member states on the defects found in Irish commercial vehicles.

A failure to act would perpetuate this problem to the detriment of operators who take a more responsible attitude. In the current economic climate it is even more important to take all necessary steps to ensure the roadworthiness and quality of the national vehicle fleet does not deteriorate further. In fact, allowing vehicle owners and operators to cut corners is both anti-competitive and dangerous.

In terms of safety, an estimated 17.5% of fatalities on Irish roads arose from collisions involving commercial vehicles and an improvement in the roadworthiness of those vehicles will save lives. Such improvements could also result in substantial savings to the State.

While it may seem insensitive to discuss the financial cost of fatalities, it is a reality. For example, in 2010 there were 27,085 collisions on the roads at an estimated cost to the State of €850 million, an astonishing amount. The avoidance of four fatal collisions or 25 serious injury collisions per year, in incidents involving commercial vehicles, would more than cover the operational cost of the reform being proposed. Undoubtedly, it is avoidance of loss and pain for the families involved that will prove to be the ultimate gain.

Another major contribution of this reform is to reduce congestion caused by breakdowns of commercial vehicles. It is estimated that up to 10% of total congestion on primary roads is caused by such incidents. Vehicles not compliant with the roadworthiness testing system are considered to be a significant contributory factor. Based on UK estimates of the economic impact of such incidents, the cost to Ireland would be in the range of €1 billion to €2 billion. It is clear that avoiding even a small number of these incidents, for example, on the M50 or the port tunnel, would have considerable economic benefit.

Other indirect benefits from a reformed system include increased business for the vehicle maintenance and testing industry, increased revenue to the Exchequer from fines for non-compliance and a restoration of and improvement in the reputation of the transport industry. The measures will support compliant operators in their business through more effective enforcement of non-compliance provisions. The measures will also support a system which reduces the administrative burden on operators, including, for example, the need for a visit to a motor tax office to obtain a certificate of roadworthiness and online motor tax for commercial vehicle owners.

Following approval of the proposals, the RSA developed a transformation roadmap which outlined a phased approach to establishing a reform programme for the commercial vehicle roadworthiness testing system. Preparations are well advanced for implementing the many elements of this roadmap and the requisite numbers of staff have been transferred from local authorities.

With the legal support of the provisions in the Bill, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the RSA will proceed immediately to the drafting of the necessary secondary legislation to enable the RSA to take the final steps to put in place the revised structure for CVR. Subject to the appropriate legal provisions being in place, it is envisaged that the testing function will transfer to the RSA by the end of the year. Furthermore, the new system of managing and supervising the performance of test centres to ensure a minimum consistent standard of testing across the country will be in place by the end of the year. The other measures will be in place in the first half of next year.

The other area to which the provisions of the Bill relate is the transfer of the driver licensing function from local authorities to the RSA. The current Irish driver licence system came into being in 1964 and has a number of strands. Local authorities, operating from motor tax offices, are responsible for processing applications and delivering licences; budgetary responsibility for the licence service rests with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has responsibility for policy oversight and the driver licence database which is managed by the National Vehicle Driver File in Shannon. Operational oversight at national level and certain elements of policy guidance rests with the RSA.

The change being undertaken was triggered by the need to introduce the plastic card driving licence to Ireland in 2013. Under EU Licensing Directive 2006/126, all member states are required to introduce a plastic card driver licence in January 2013. The introduction of this new form of licence presented an opportunity to review the licence issuing system as a whole and examine whether greater efficiencies could be achieved by a change of approach. The review, conducted on behalf of the RSA, concluded that, while the existing licensing delivery system had some advantages, the distributed nature of motor tax offices gave rise to variable practices, inefficiencies and an inability to benefit from economies of scale.

For reasons of security, efficiencies and economy of scale, the review suggested the actual plastic card should be produced by an outsourced provider. Apart from other considerations, it would not be economically feasible to site plastic card production facilities at multiple locations.

The main recommendation from the review was that a centralised model for dealing with all aspects of the plastic card driver licence be proceeded with. The advantages flowing from such an approach cover identity features, security, customer service, efficiency and value for money. Having examined the review, the Minister considered various State bodies and concluded that the RSA was best positioned to undertake responsibility for centralised processing and production of driver licences. The authority already holds responsibility for the driver theory test and driver testing. The extension of its functions to include licence processing and production brings a synchronicity to this area and provides the customer with a one-stop-shop approach to driver licensing.

Having set out the context, I will outline the major provisions of the Bill. First, I should clarify that while the Bill vests all of the powers and functions in the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, it is intended to confer these powers on the RSA. This is provided under section 37.

Part 2 of the Bill provides the new legislative framework for CVR testing in the State. This Part of the Bill will cover all aspects of CVR from a regulatory perspective and provides significant powers for various statutory officers to support the reform of the system.

Chapter 1 provides for the making of regulations on commercial vehicle testing and certificates of roadworthiness. It includes relevant offences for using a vehicle without such a certificate and provides that both the person using the vehicle and the owner can be guilty of an offence if they are not the same person.

Under section 7, a member of An Garda Síochána will also have the power to demand a certificate of roadworthiness from the driver or the owner of a vehicle within one month of an occasion where the member has reasonable grounds for believing the CVR vehicle was being used in a public place.

Chapter 2 contains perhaps the most significant provisions in terms of the reform programme. It establishes a new regulatory regime for authorised testers who are responsible for operating the test centres, carrying out the tests and issuing pass statements for CVR vehicles. The Bill provides for replacing the term "authorised tester" with "CVR test operator". The new regime, on commencement of these provisions, will apply to existing authorised testers and the necessary transitional provision for this is provided under section 10. The existing authorised testers will be required to apply for a renewal of their authorisation within 18 months of the commencement of section 10. Any application to become an authorised tester that was being processed but not determined prior to the commencement of the legislation will also be covered by this section.

The Bill sets out the detailed requirements that will be imposed on persons applying to be CVR test operators. The provisions in this chapter will raise and strengthen the required standards necessary for authorisation. Not only will conditions attaching to the authorisation deal with a number of areas, including categories of vehicles to be tested, the type of tests to be carried out and the requirements for testing centres and testers, it will also provide for other criteria against which an application may be considered. These considerations include the need for the competent delivery of commercial vehicle roadworthiness testing, a well functioning, well maintained, accessible, competitive, integrated and safe network of CVR testing centres, and appropriate equipment, facilities and premises for testing.

In addition to the above authorisations, section 17 provides for the authorisation of CVR testers, that is, those persons who physically carry out the tests on vehicles at the test centres. This section provides a transitional provision for testers who are already registered for this purpose and provides that a register of authorised CVR testers may be established and maintained. Similarly, there is a provision under section 29 that the Road Safety Authority shall establish and maintain a register of CVR test operators and that this register will be made available to all, both online and at the headquarters of the authority. All aspects of authorisation in respect of both CVR test operators and CVR testers are overhauled by the Bill, with the new standards to be enforced by provisions to suspend and revoke authorisations when needed. Sections 18 to 22, inclusive, provide for such suspensions and revocations in order that any non-compliance with the standards, conditions or directions prescribed in the legislation will have serious implications for authorised CVR test operators, as well as CVR testers. Provision has also been made for the details of such suspensions or revocations under sections 18 and 19, respectively, to be made available, as appropriate, on the registers of CVR test operators and testers.

The key to raising the national standard of commercial vehicle roadworthiness will be enforcement. The Bill will allow for greater powers of enforcement through targeted roadside inspections and inspections of commercial operators' premises and CVR test centres. These powers are being channelled through various statutory officers, namely, authorised officers, CVR inspectors and members of An Garda Síochána. Sections 24 and 25 provide for the appointment of authorised officers and the powers of these officers in CVR testing. Authorised officers will have the power, subject to section 26, to enter a CVR testing centre or any other premises where he or she believes CVR tests are being carried out and inspect the premises, equipment and facilities, as well as enter and inspect CVR vehicles. The authorised officer will also be able to observe and supervise testing in progress and inspect or remove any documentation related to the maintenance and testing of vehicles. Authorised officers will have the power to issue directions to a CVR test operator where tests are not being carried out as required. Failure to comply with the requirements or directions prescribed will result in an offence being committed by the CVR test operators. The full extent of the authorised officer's remit in CVR testing is clearly set out in section 25.

In Chapter 3, section 31 provides authorised officers with additional powers in respect of CVR maintenance obligations. They will have similar powers to those mentioned, but under this provision, these powers will allow the officer to enter any premises where he or she believes CVR vehicles, or information on CVR vehicles, are being kept. The section provides that an authorised officer can search premises to locate a vehicle and inspect such vehicles or any equipment being used to maintain the CVR vehicles. He or she can also make a requirement of an owner or a person in charge to provide any documentation or information related to the maintenance of the vehicle. The officer may inspect and take extracts or copies of such documentation. These powers are extensive and should provide a very effective means of ensuring compliance with the standard of testing.

Similarly, significant powers have been provided for CVR inspectors in Chapter 4 which deals with roadside inspections. A CVR inspector will be a member of An Garda Síochána or a person appointed as an inspector under section 33. Section 34 sets out the powers of a CVR inspector and provides that where he or she is a member of An Garda Síochána or accompanied by a member of the force, powers are provided to stop a vehicle and keep it stationary for a period that is reasonable for the purposes of carrying out an inspection. Once a vehicle has been stopped by a member of An Garda Síochána, the CVR inspector will also have the powers to require the driver to produce a certificate of roadworthiness, seek information that assists in the inspection and drive a vehicle for a reasonable time and distance. The CVR inspector will also have the power to carry out any tests or make any requirements deemed reasonable by the inspector for the purposes of inspecting the vehicle. The provisions in regard to CVR inspectors go beyond this brief description, but it should give Deputies an indication of the types of powers that will be given to these statutory officers for the purposes of enforcement.

Chapter 6 provides for the conferral of functions related to CVR on the Road Safety Authority which will take responsibility for the oversight, management and direct control of the CVR function and be central to implementing a robust testing regime. The proposed overhaul of the CVR system involves the use of a risk register for systematic targeting of non-compliant operators and test centres, as set out in section 39. Currently, most inspections are carried out on a random basis. This largely random approach leads to compliant operators being inconvenienced as much as non-compliant or higher risk operators. The current approach is also anti-competitive as non-compliant operators are being rewarded with commercial advantage due to incurring fewer maintenance and testing costs. The risk assessment system is intended to be a fair system that is evidence based and which treats each operator consistently based on the information available. Operators who adhere to good practices, hold appropriate records and consistently maintain their vehicles to the required standards will reap the benefits as compliance and enforcement activities are focused to a greater degree on higher risk operators.

There was a good deal of debate in the Seanad about section 39. Risk-based enforcement is consistent with the Government's programme to streamline enforcement activities. Many of the existing regulatory agencies have already undertaken enforcement on a risk basis such as the Foods Standards Authority of Ireland, the Revenue Commissioners and the Environmental Protection Agency. It is vital that available resources are effectively deployed to influence and maximise road safety outcomes. The State cannot afford the resources necessary to control non-compliance by way of traditional deterrent-based enforcement. Such an approach is inefficient and goes against the practice being adopted internationally.

The CVR reform programme includes an integrated information technology system which will assist the Road Safety Authority in ensuring vehicle testing is carried out to a common standard. This system is provided for in section 28. The information and risk rating systems will be central to developing a modern and internationally recognised system of roadworthiness in Ireland. The Bill will underpin everything envisaged and is testament to the work that has been done and will continue to be done by all parties in a very challenging environment.

Chapter 8 deals with miscellaneous amendments to the Road Traffic Acts, some of which arise from the main provisions of the Bill. These are not substantive amendments and are primarily technical in nature. Part 3 deals with the transfer of the licensing function from local authorities to the Road Safety Authority. As I mentioned, we will move to a plastic card licence next year and, as part of a review to determine the best means for introducing this new type of licence, a centralised model in respect of driver licensing provision was recommended. This will be vested in the Road Safety Authority which will become the licensing authority for the purposes of processing, managing and issuing driver licences. Section 49 amends section 4 of the Road Safety Authority Act 2006 to provide the authority with the functions of a licensing authority within the meaning of section 21 of the Road Traffic Act 1961. Sections 50 to 55, inclusive, deal with all necessary amendments to the Road Traffic Acts and the Finance Acts to reflect this change in function.

In summary, the objective of the Bill is, on the one hand, to introduce a reform programme that will improve the roadworthiness and safety of commercial vehicles and, on the other, to provide for the introduction of a plastic card driving licence with more efficient and effective management arrangements. I hope Deputies will support, as always, the development of further road safety legislation. I look forward to hearing their views on the proposals contained in the Bill.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this legislation which, as the Minister of State said, has been in gestation for some time. The previous Government had an active role in establishing the framework for and outline of its provisions. The Bill is a useful instrument in the continued effort to reduce the number of deaths on the roads. It is a regular feature of discussion in this House on road safety that we refer to the ongoing process of putting in place the building blocks of an appropriate legislative basis to deal with issues as they arise. From that point of view, it is important that we continue to evolve the legislation and the public debate and discourse on road safety. International experts point out that efforts in this regard must, of necessity, involve an iterative process and that governments must not sit on their laurels in the belief a particular legislative proposal is an end in itself. While we can add to the body of legislation, we can also continue to generate public debate. It is widely recognised and accepted that the more public debates that take place on road safety, the greater the improvement in driver behaviour will be. When certain initiatives introduced by the Government or external bodies are well publicised and discussed in the media, there is an impact on driver behaviour, as is clear from a tangible metric: the monthly figures for road deaths. RTE played a significant role some years ago when Charlie Bird used to compile an outline of the deaths in a particular month, with names and backgrounds, and the impact the deaths of the people concerned had on their families. That was one of the most striking campaigns involving the media that brought about a realisation in the public mind of the importance of taking care on the road. That led in a significant way to an adjustment in driver behaviour, but it was not enough in itself. I appeal to media organisations to continue their work in highlighting what is going on in this House and the Road Safety Authority in initiating various initiatives. It is only when the issue of road safety enters the consciousness of drivers that there is an effect on their behaviour. The Minister of State has identified many of the changes that have taken place in recent years with the support of all parties. I will not deviate from the good working relationship the House has enjoyed in the last ten years when working to save lives on the roads. We will continue to support sensible provisions and measures brought forward as part of that process. The next stage is identified in the Bill.

The introduction of penalty points was ground-breaking in how it changed driver behaviour. We must continue to look at this issue to ensure the application of sanctions is examined, particularly for drivers from the North of Ireland and outside Ireland. It must be addressed at European level and the Government, because Ireland has done so much to save lives on the roads, should lead that debate in Europe. There is an opportunity for the Minister of State, as we assume the Presidency of the European Union in the first half of next year, to lead a campaign on cross-border road safety issues, particularly penalty points.

How do we deal with trucks from outside the State? Will the provisions of this legislation apply to them? What sanctions will we be able to impose without impounding a vehicle? Drivers from outside the State must not have the opportunity to evade our judicial system. The authorities in other countries are quick to impound trucks and detain drivers from other states. It does not appear to be included in the Bill, but are there other provisions that could be used to deal with this issue?

The introduction of speed cameras has been of great help in changing driver behaviour. The roll-out of mobile cameras last year played a significant role in the continued reduction in the number of fatalities.

I pay tribute to some people who are often overlooked. The Bill makes provision to centralise road safety activities in the Road Safety Authority, but there are those in the local authorities who might feel that is a reflection on them. We must move beyond this and accept that the RSA is the appropriate place in which to centralise these functions. We are not casting aspersions on individual local authorities, but we can do a better job with a centralised authority.

I recognise the tremendous work of the chief executive of the Road Safety Authority who has been a continuous campaigner and hugely successful in reducing the number of deaths on the roads. Mr. Noel Brett, as a public servant, deserves credit from us all for his work. I also recognise the chairman who was recently reappointed by the Government, Mr. Gay Byrne, who led a strong campaign, in addition to the legislative work done in this House, in taking the debate to the wider public and continuing to challenge the behaviour of drivers.

We cannot get away from education and the role it plays in driver behaviour and ultimately in the saving of lives and reducing the costs that accrue from injuries in road accidents. There must be greater involvement by the Department of Education and Skills. We equip our young people for all sorts of life experiences such as examinations and careers, but one of the first things many children want to do before they leave school is learn to drive. Unfortunately, the school system is somewhat redundant in the role it could play in that regard. I am familiar with a number of initiatives around the country that have sought to work with schoolchildren to help them to develop an understanding of and a sense of responsibility for driving skills.

The Bill is clear in its objectives. It came about as a result of a number of serious accidents that have been well publicised. It is important to recognise the statistics. About 20% of all road fatalities involve commercial vehicles. That is a striking figure that shows the need for the legislation. It is also interesting that 48% of all commercial vehicles tested at the side of the road are found to be defective or fall short of the appropriate standards in some way; about 32% of these vehicles are in need of urgent attention. If anyone thinks the legislation is a step too far, he or she should look at the statistics, particularly the potential for death and destruction on the roads.

The Minister of State has also identified an issue that does not affect people until they are caught in a traffic jam. Traffic disruption has an impact on the real economy which must be addressed.

As someone who often traverses the country, I regularly see at the side of the road the outer rims of tyres that have come off trucks. I do not know if that is as a result of remoulding but the practice should be outlawed. I understand the commercial pressures faced by hauliers and businesses, but I have seen these strings of rubber become a nuisance on motorways. Their presence has led to accidents and the issue should be addressed as soon as possible.

Another issues that should be considered is the roll-out of truck stops. There are now motorway stops built as part of the NRA's upgrading of the road network, while other private facilities have been put in place. New stops could be basic; they do not need all the bells and whistles. Driver fatigue is a huge issue that was not addressed by the last or the current Government. I accept that the National Roads Authority indicated in the past that it was cost prohibitive to put in place the sophisticated truck stops it considered necessary. It is also necessary to achieve a critical mass of activity in order for these facilities to be self-financing. Basic rest areas are what is required and they need not even be manned. Drivers must have the capacity to obtain a cup of coffee or boiling water or a glass of cold water and should be able to park their trucks or motor cars for 15 or 20 minutes or perhaps longer. Making such facilities available should form the next part of the Government's approach to road safety.

The Minister of State referred to the introduction of a plastic card driving licence. This is a welcome development which has been in train for some time. He also referred to outsourcing the work in respect of this matter. That is a good idea because it would not be feasible to suggest the various local authorities take responsibility for this work. Has consideration been given to asking the Passport Office to provide this service? The Minister of State will be aware that it has a highly sophisticated back-office system and is well capable of meeting the various standards relating to biometrics, security features, etc. I would have thought it might be the appropriate entity to provide the service. Once responsibility for something as important as the production of driving licences is allowed to move outside the control of the State, there is always an expectation or a belief fraudulent activity might occur.

While the Irish Road Haulage Association is broadly in agreement with the legislation and welcomes the provisions that will ensure a level playing field for all, it has some concerns about owner-operators. I understand approximately 70% of the trucks which operate on our roads are from owner-operator fleets which are not obliged to licence their vehicles. Therefore, the staff of the Road Safety Authority who will be carrying out roadside inspections will not have a clear picture of them because they will not be on the register. Does the Government propose to deal with this matter? Does it intend to impose on owner-operators, particularly those whose fleets exceed a certain number of vehicles, the same requirements as those which apply to others, or does it propose to include these individuals in the licensing regime in order that the database of information on them will be better and more comprehensive?

The necessity to maintain vehicles to a higher standard will have an important ancillary benefit for the motor trade in general. The requirement in this regard will place pressure on those unscrupulous operators who enjoyed an unfair competitive advantage over those in the regulated industry, namely, those who have sought to operate by the book. The position is the same on the rogue element within the road haulage industry that is currently utilising the services of fuel launderers. This is placing those who operate above board at an exceptionally unfair disadvantage. This matter was the subject of some discussion last week and I have no intention of commenting on the merits of the arguments made at that stage. I will state, however, that the sooner the Government can come forward with a suite of measures to put the rogue element to which I refer out of business, the better it will be for those who seek to comply, pay their taxes, operate in a regulated environment and seek to meet the safety standards set down by the State. Removing the rogue element should be to the fore in the Government's approach to this matter and it will be in the context of ensuring vehicles meet the appropriate standards. It is welcome that the Government is going to put in place the necessary regime of rigorous inspections to ensure those in the rogue element to which I refer will not be operating vehicles which are less than satisfactory.

The Government must extend its efforts in this regard into the area of laundered fuel, particularly as its availability is having an impact on hauliers who seek to meet the various standards set down. In addition, it is estimated that the State is losing in the region of approximately €250 million each year as a result of the activities of the rogue element in question which, in turn, is supporting those involved in other criminal activities. That money is badly needed by the Exchequer.

Fianna Fáil supports the Bill and measures it contains. We look forward to its enactment. However, it will be necessary to carry out significant work in order to deal with some of the anomalies. As stated, it will be necessary, sooner rather than later, to address the matter of driver fatigue. I do not accept that it is not commercially possible to deal with this matter. It will be possible to identify appropriate locations that will serve as rest areas and it will not be necessary to spend the type of money required to provide the fine facilities which have already been put in place. What is required are parking areas where people can rest.

There is a need to deal with the issue of laundered fuel at the earliest opportunity. The problem is having a significant impact on the haulage sector. It is forcing those who might otherwise have been compliant and service their trucks on a regular basis out of business or placing them in a position where - against their will - they are taking shortcuts in order to maintain their living and ensure their staff remain in employment. Those to whom I refer would not normally take shortcuts or chances and are law abiding in every other possible respect.

I ask the Minister of State take action to deal with the problems caused by the strips of rubber which come free from the tyres of trucks and are deposited on motorways. Will he also consider how penalty points might be applied to individuals from outside the State?

I do not wish to make a political point, but I feel compelled to do so. I refer to the issue of enforcement. We have referred to the good work being done by the Government and that which was carried out by the previous Administration. However, enforcement is ultimately a way of ensuring compliance with the law. The House can enact all the legislation it wants, but if this cannot be enforced, our efforts will come to naught. The Government's decision to reduce the number of members of the Garda Síochána is going to have a significant impact in the context of the enforcement of the laws of the State. There are many Members, me included, who have ended up on the wrong side of the law in respect of speeding or acquiring penalty points and that is as it should be. Members of the public must know that they are going to be caught if they drive at speed. The putting in place of speed checks has been one of the greatest deterrents to people speeding. It is also one of the major reasons the number of deaths on the roads has decreased to such an extent. I am concerned that the reduction in the number of gardaí envisaged by the Government will make it impossible for the legislation to continue to be enforced. This will have a corrosive effect over time in respect of the good work done to date.

I recognise that this matter does not fall within the Minister of State's remit. However, I encourage him and the Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, to continue to fight the battle with the Departments of Justice and Equality and Finance in order to ensure we will not see a return of high numbers of deaths on the roads.

I thank Deputy Timmy Dooley for sharing time.

I welcome this debate because it provides us with the opportunity to discuss road safety, the roadworthiness of trucks and various other issues. My party supports any measures which will improve road safety. We have a proud record in this regard.

I hope the Minister of State will clarify a number of matters. I refer, for example, to the cap on licence fees and the status of the 140 local authority staff whose services will no longer be necessary when the centralisation of services occurs. What will happen to the staff to whom I refer? I accept that they probably have some rights under the Croke Park agreement, but many of them are extremely concerned.

Fianna Fáil and the former Minister for Transport, Noel Dempsey, were very much to the fore in promoting road safety. Mr. Dempsey was heavily criticised on all sides of the House at times for his tough and stringent attitude on the issue. He was not for turning on many of the issues he considered important to road safety such as changing the drink driving laws. Some of the decisions taken at the time have borne fruit, with a serious reduction in the number of fatalities on the roads. Any fatality, particularly of a young person, on the roads is traumatic for his or her family. My daughter was killed in a road accident involving a truck. Therefore, I am very much aware of the traumatic effect a road fatality has on a family. Any decision taken to improve road safety must be welcomed.

I was involved in the oil business for many years. The standard of trucks nowadays is very good compared to what it was in the late 1970s and the early 1980s when there were many substandard trucks on the roads. One depended on the local garageman on many occasions to keep an old truck on the road, despite the fact it would not really have been roadworthy. We now have state-of-the-art trucks, nearly all of which are kept in good condition by their owners, be it a small family-run haulage business or a larger haulier company. The Minister of State said, however, that 18% of road fatalities involved trucks or commercial vehicles, a number which is still too high.

One concern raised on many occasions is the danger posed by trucks to cyclists, particularly in towns and cities. A number of cyclists have been killed when dragged underneath a truck trying to manoeuvre around main and side streets, sometimes unbeknownst to the driver. It is important that cyclists are allowed to travel and go about their business with the same safety enjoyed by other transport users.

The issue of truck parkways was raised; it is one which has been raised with me by many transport operators. They point out that they are required under EU regulations to take breaks from driving, but they have nowhere to park their trucks in seeking to do so. I find that many of them are parking adjacent to housing estates, I presume for the security of knowing that there are many people nearby. Those living in housing estates are concerned about the dangers these trucks pose to young children and people going in and out of the estates. There is, therefore, a need for designated truck parkways. I do not blame the Minister of State for this, however. When I was a member some time ago of the local authority in Wexford, I often raised the point that even with all the grandiose county development plans in place, there were few designated areas where trucks could park. I know several reviews of development plans are taking place, as well as the rezoning of many lands. It is important that new areas are designated for truck parkways. Some suggest such parkways also need to provide for the availability of diesel stations and shops. However, all that is needed is a designated area where truck drivers can park freely and out of danger to other vehicles and pedestrians. This issue should be examined in liaison with local authorities.

A serious bone of contention among Irish transport operators is that truck drivers from other countries do not seem to receive the same attention or rigour of the law as they do. They consider the Garda and transport inspectors more or less ignore foreign trucks when checking roadworthiness, the correct use of diesel and so forth, meaning they cannot operate like with like. It is an area that needs to be examined. Perhaps there is a problem in that the laws of the land cannot be imposed on a foreign truck here.

Deputy Timmy Dooley raised the matter of laundered fuel which was discussed in the House last week. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, said he had a working group in his Department, comprising departmental officials and representatives of the hauliers' associations, seeking a solution to this problem. I hope a solution can be arrived at as quickly as possible. Not alone is it unfair on legitimate operators but the State is also losing significant revenue. It is also important that Irish transport operators have access to the perks enjoyed by hauliers from other EU member states.

The Road Safety Authority will take over the functions of local authorities in determining commercial vehicle roadworthiness. I am not one - perhaps the Minister of State is the same – for having too much centralisation. In fact, we should be getting away from it. I had hoped local authorities would be given more powers in this regard, rather than passing everything up the line to others in Dublin and the RSA. A concern among local authority staff is that there will be severe job changes. Will the Minister of State clarify that those operating in this area in local authorities will be transferred to other duties or given the opportunity of working with the RSA? It is important that as many of these staff as possible are taken on board with the RSA or given other job opportunities in the local authority system or the Department.

The Bill is moving in the right direction and will improve safety on the roads. As Deputy Timmy Dooley pointed out, a road fatality is very traumatic for the family affected. Improved road safety would also see a reduction in hospital admissions. The Bill's regulations to improve road safety are to be welcomed, but I hope the Minister of State will clarify some of the issues I raised. We must ensure our truck operators continue to operate to a high standard.

I wish to share time with Deputy Michael Colreavy.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

There seems to be a fundamental shift of local authority functions to new bodies such as Irish Water and, in the case of this Bill, transferring commercial vehicle roadworthiness testing to the Road Safety Authority, RSA. The replacing of local authorities as the agency responsible in this area is a retrograde step. Local authorities have been starved of funding but have still managed to deliver excellent services. There is an old saying that one does not fix what is not broken, and by and large, the testing of vehicles and their roadworthiness is borne out by that slogan. There is a real danger that the centralisation of these services will lead to job losses and a lack of access for local people. This is not about a better and safer service but the cutting of costs and, in the long run, it is part of a privatisation policy which Labour and Fine Gael is driving both in the short and long term. Centralising everything makes the Government's agenda easier and putting everything on a automated freefone service makes the lives of citizens a misery. It will undoubtedly lead to a deterioration of the service.

The Government's plans for the water system and associated charges reflects Fine Gael's entire political basis and its wish to end the State provision of services because of the private sector's thirst for profit. I cannot see how safety is served by that agenda. These changes would do nothing radical to the system except make the process less user-friendly and accountable. The Road Safety Authority, RSA, will not run test centres. That is not to say that certain provisions of this Bill do not have merit. The problem is these are premised on the licensing and testing coming under the RSA ambit, and that is not helpful in the sustainable provision of good services.

The IMPACT trade union has stated that this proposal flies in the face of an OECD report on public service in Ireland, which indicated that local authorities should be used more and not less in the provision of services like this. There is no anecdotal or other evidence to support the Government's proposals, as colleagues have rarely reported any difficulties with the current model. The Government's proposals are ideologically driven and a devious attempt to usher in softly less democratic and public control of services in exchange for private profit. A saving of €4.5 million is touted as one of the great benefits but despite knowing better, I am surprised by this. I am repeatedly shocked by the Government's willingness to herald with trumpets the savings of a few million euro when it is wasting massive amounts elsewhere. This begs the question of how much of the saving is based on a transfer of funding responsibility from the State to the hard-pressed people getting their commercial vehicles tested. They will give millions of euro every year to the RSA in testing alone, and who is to say the fees will not be increased.

The provisions around better testing standards, training and equipment are good, and I have no problem with them. Nevertheless, they are the fig leaf on which this very rotten deal is being sold. There is nothing to stop the State placing more standardised requirements on local authorities, implementing a database or keeping better track of licences issued. There is nothing to stop it putting in place measures to improve Garda enforcement except the great desire to cut everything possible from the Garda. This will also lead to a lessening in the role of councillors. The Minister of State has made representations to local authorities on these and other issues, and he and others always had great access because of councillors. Rules and regulations can be improved by the local authority, with road safety being the primary consideration. There have been significant strides made in road safety, with the appointment of Mr. Gay Byrne to the RSA an enormous contribution over the years. Speed checks have also improved safety, and it is welcome to see those vehicles on the main highways.

There have been media programmes covering malpractice at national car test, NCT, centres, but that is not the fault of local authorities. Private firms are contracted for this work and although a programme detailed malpractice in the Ballymun centre, that was not the fault of the local council. Part of the agenda being driven here is to blame the local authorities to make easier the transfer to the RSA. Nobody disputes that proper checks and balances are required. What will be the cost of the transfer of staff and expertise, as well as setting up the new RSA centre? Staff and expertise are required but what will be the cost of moving the process from the people who were on the ground in the local authorities? There will be a cost to the inconvenience, no matter where the location, as people will have to be moved.

Under the Good Friday Agreement, signed by this Government in this State in 1998, the House recognises the importance of measures to facilitate the re-integration of prisoners into the community by providing support both prior to and after release, including assistance directed towards availing of employment opportunities, re-training, reskilling and further education. The agreement recognises the political context of the conflict which occurred in Ireland between 1960 and the signing of the agreement, and that actions carried out by IRA volunteers were politically motivated. As such, IRA prisoners were political prisoners and following the ceasefire they were released from prison as part of a process of peace building. I will seek an amendment to exclude people covered under the Good Friday Agreement from any of the offences listed. The Government's commitment should be in line with that of previous Governments. I will set out my stall on a number of other amendments at a later stage.

I am a little puzzled by this proposed legislation. Normally there is a fairly clear rationale with the presentation of legislation, although we might agree only with part of that. Legislation would usually look to do something better or in a more cost-effective or streamlined fashion. It would try to ensure there are more consistent standards or that it would be easier for people to access services contained in the legislation. I do not see that happening in this legislation and I did not hear how this would happen in the Minister of State's presentation of the Bill. That troubles me quite a lot.

Road deaths have, unfortunately, affected almost every community and most families throughout this country. The issue has caused much heartache and so much suffering for many, and it cannot be dealt with lightly. It is important we have proper and sufficient regulation in place in order that the country's roads can be a safe place for every person using them. Commercial vehicles should be subject to this proper legislation, as they make up a significant number of vehicles on the roads. The roadworthiness of those vehicles must be ensured to be of the highest standards available if we are to be certain of road safety in so far as we can ever be certain of such safety.

The ultimate objective of all legislation surrounding roadworthiness and traffic regulations is to save lives and prevent damage to limb and property on the roads. There should be systems in place, therefore, that are simple, concise and clear, and which allow the best result for the roadworthiness of vehicles and safety of other road users. l have referred previously to a fairly simple principle I use in life, which is to make it easy for people to do the right thing and make it difficult for them to do the wrong thing. The people who need to be targeted by legislation such as this are those who do not provide for the proper upkeep of commercial vehicles and who, by their recklessness, put the lives and limbs of others in danger.

The problem I have with the legislation is it will not improve the current system of commercial vehicle testing. It will change a process but I do not see where it will change an outcome. When a problem arises with licensing and the testing of the roadworthiness of a commercial vehicle, it should be stamped out at source and, therefore, taking powers from local authorities and handing them to a centralised body will not automatically lead to improved road safety. A recent OECD report on the public service in Ireland argued that local authorities should be used more frequently in the delivery of public services and we need to have that debate in the House. We need to examine the entire range of public services to ascertain what can best be done at local and national level and, in the absence of that debate and analysis, that legislation has pulled bits in isolation from the overall and tried to slot them into different places. We need a wider analysis of the public service as a whole and we need to decide, based on rationale and logic, what can be done better at local, regional and national level.

The current vehicle testing service enjoys a high level of customer satisfaction and I fear the legislation will further erode the provision of public services by local authorities. For example, waste collection services have been privatised and there are serious concerns about the future of the control of our water services. The privatisation of the licensing system for commercial vehicles cannot be a step in the right direction without the wider analysis which I mentioned being carried out. I refer to the centralisation of medical card processing. Most Members had queues of people calling to their constituency offices because of the centralisation of a service that was better provided at local level. It was a debacle and it ran into the ground. Those who were processing medical cards were not properly trained to do so and insufficient staff were available. This service was supposed to improve the consistency and quality of decision-making, streamline the processing of applications and provide for faster eligibility decisions but it did exactly the opposite. The service was centralised but not enough thought was given to the impact of centralisation. The outcome was the opposite of the stated intention of the legislation dealing with the processing of medical cards. However, the Government has not learned lessons from this debacle. The public and staff still do not know what is happening. So many complaints were received by Oireachtas Members that a delegation from the Joint Committee on Health and Children visited the medical card processing facility in Finglas. How long will it be before transport committee members call to the new centralised office provided for in the Bill?

We will table amendments to the legislation on the assumption it will pass this Stage, particularly to the section dealing with commercial vehicle test operators. The section provides that it will be the Minister's prerogative to allow people who have been convicted of different offences to be employed as test operators. As Deputy Ellis said, the legislation does not make allowances for those who qualify under the Good Friday Agreement. They were political prisoners and they should not be excluded from employment.

I ask the Minister of State and his officials to revisit the rationale for introducing the legislation and to think about whether it will improve the service for those who need access to it. If there is a risk the proposed centre ends up like the medical card processing in Finglas, they need to go back to the drawing board. If the Bill passes Second Stage, we will table amendments.

I support the Bill in principle but I have concerns, some of which may be addressed on Committee Stage. However, others can only be addressed if there is a proper enforcement regime. I read the Bill digest, which is always helpful, and I was shocked to find that 32% of commercial vehicles tested at road side checkpoints in 2011 required immediate action. Commercial vehicles were involved in approximately 20% of fatalities while a high number of accidents resulted in serious injuries. The larger the vehicle, the greater the risk of injury. Such injuries can be life changing and that must be borne in mind. Changes that are made in the interest of road safety must be thought out and we should generally support them.

According to the Bill digest, there is evidence that a disproportionate number of Irish registered vehicles fail road side checks in the UK and, anecdotally, the same is the case on the Continent where there is a high level of compliance. This is because there is a high risk of being caught and losing a business or an income. Compliance together with enforcement of the legislation are the two key issues. The fact that hauliers were detected in Britain shows that there is higher level of enforcement there than in Ireland. I agree the current system, which is fragmented, cannot lead to consistency and it is necessary to have a central database to track variations in compliance levels and test outcomes in different parts of the country. Without data, that cannot be measured whereas it is very important it is possible to measure it.

There is apparently limited roadside enforcement by gardaí and infrequent multi-agency enforcement measures. Indeed, I have been watching out for multi-agency measures, for example, in regard to the taxi system. I have been in taxis recently and, to be honest, I do not know who passed them. I got into one taxi where the door would not close and there were appalling and obvious defects. When dealing with very large vehicles while there is an inadequacy in terms of enforcement and of compliance, given there is an obligation on the people who own and drive these vehicles, clearly, they are posing an unacceptable risk to other road users. The fragmentation is not helpful and, therefore, the centralisation of supervision is a reasonable proposal.

We all remember the high-profile "Prime Time" programme on the NCT, which pointed to a less than satisfactory situation, although that is something of an understatement. Given that experience, it will be essential this process is highly supervised and regulated. Nonetheless, I cannot understand how it is to work. I presume there will be private sector involvement and that there may well be a competition or a tender process. However, it would be useful if the Minister outlined how he sees this applying in practical terms as it is important we see that picture. If it continues to be the case that people go to garages to undertake their tests and, at the same time, come back to the same garage to have their tyres repaired or carry out whatever repair the vehicle requires, there is a conflict of interest. There is also a potential conflict of interest in terms of local authorities keeping the show on the road in terms of commercial rates and all the rest. All of those kinds of issues have to be part of the consideration of this issue.

The idea that 158 operators are supervised by 30 bodies is the kind of fragmentation we have been used to in this country and it is not an efficient way to operate. However, I have concerns, as I had in my experience with the National Roads Authority, that this will be impenetrable for a person trying to get information from the Road Safety Authority and there will be no democratic oversight. Those kinds of issues are very important when one is taking powers away from the local authority. There needs to be oversight for an agency such as the RSA, for example, by parliamentary question. While the RSA has been doing a very good job, there is always the potential for that job not to be done as well as we would like, and it is important we have this available to us.

While I am supportive of this initiative, I note the commercial vehicle licensing element of the local authorities' role, which is done on an agency basis for the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, is quite small in terms of motor taxation and the provision of general licences. There is a valid concern in that we hear every week of another function that will not be carried out by the local government system. I am in favour of radical reform - I really mean radical reform - of the local government system. I do not want to see it done by stealth, however, but in a thoughtful way, so I am concerned that we are seeing this kind of chopping away of functions without some sort of a vision. I accept this is a separate matter but it is important to say it.

The point made by a previous speaker on the centralisation of medical cards was not a good example. If we are to centralise something, we must be certain that when a telephone rings, somebody is there to pick it up, that people are treated in a professional manner, that the least amount of bureaucracy is involved in complying and that it is made easy for people to comply. The last thing we want is to create problems for people who are already struggling to keep a business going. Of any sector, the road haulage industry has been one of the most prone to businesses failing over the years, and it is important we keep in mind that where people are trying to be compliant, we help them to be compliant.

The local authorities currently have officials involved in identifying and authorising testers, and it appears this function is done on a part-time basis in many local authority areas. Can we be told if this function will be retained or transferred to the RSA, or will it be subsumed into other functions within the local authority system? This question does matter.

It appears some test centres carry out tests for heavy goods vehicles but not for light goods vehicles. If we are going to centralise the process and make it simple, it is important this issue is dealt with. While I suspect it will be, there is inadequate information for me to be sure this will be the case.

There is always a presumption that people can do everything online but there will have to be some thought about people who do not want to do their business in that way. The other point is that if we are taking this process away from the local government system and it is to be centrally organised, will people have to rely on the postal service or apply online, or will they have a reasonably convenient local office to which they can go? Again, I ask the Minister to draw attention to how this will function in practice.

The Bill refers to tachograph offences. I believe there are many offences in regard to people not complying with tachograph rules but we do not know because we rarely see anyone being checked. In the past 12 months, I saw perhaps two major checks involving the Customs Service, the Garda and social welfare officials, and not necessarily in regard to heavy goods vehicles. When one goes to other countries, in particular the UK, one is conscious of the traffic corps being on the roads the whole time, of people being pulled in and all the rest. This legislation will only be as good as its enforcement.

Ten years ago the National Roads Authority undertook an analysis - perhaps not a very nice one - in regard to how much a fatality cost. It came to the conclusion that a figure which could be put on it for the purposes of undertaking a cost-benefit analysis was approximately £1 million. We can see, therefore, that a higher level of compliance will result in a financial benefit, as well as a benefit to the people who will not end up subject to these road accidents.

I was surprised when I saw the plastic-style driver licence was first initiated in the early 1990s. Europe has moved about as slowly as the iceberg that the Titanic hit. Within the next ten years we will have this plastic card but I cannot understand why it will take that long. It is astonishing how slowly the process moves for such a logical, small thing.

I want to focus on the issue of Garda numbers given Ireland has a very lop-sided distribution of Garda resources. I met the assistant commissioner, who told me each division operated on the basis that what one has, one holds. The counties around the cities that have grown in recent years - I am not only referring to Dublin - have a disproportionately low number of gardaí per head of population. My county, Kildare, is the worst nationally with one garda for every 660 people, approximately half the national average. If the rest of the country was policed to that standard, we could let go 5,000 gardaí. Naturally that would be ridiculous but that is the level of service we are getting. The distribution of gardaí will be important if there is any chance of the legislation working as intended.

Although there are many positive aspects to the Bill, one note of concern is that it gives a good deal of power to the Minister to bring in regulations and secondary legislation. The absence of democratic oversight is dangerous and the wrong way to proceed with this legislation. I would prefer to see more detail in this legislation. It may be that some detail can be incorporated by way of amendment on Committee Stage but it is concerning.

I had always understood that one was considered innocent and not guilty by assumption. Another provision of concern in the Bill is the suggestion that if one does not produce certain documentation, one is presumed to be guilty. I am somewhat concerned about this and I am keen to hear what the Minister has to say.

I am pleased to be able to speak on the proposed legislation, the Road Safety Authority (Commercial Vehicle Roadworthiness) Bill 2012, a fine mouthful, although I cannot say I am as pleased as previous speakers. I welcome the Bill and wish the Minister well with it, but it is more evidence of our rush to bring in legislation of all kinds to make it more difficult for people who are the providers of employment and services. They are being banished off the land. I am in favour of road safety and I have no wish to see any kind of accident. That said, we need a detailed analysis of what is being done in this legislation. It is more evidence of a takeover of power by official Ireland and nothing else. There are too many regulations and there is excessive regulation in many areas. If we do not stop this, there will be no national recovery. I cannot understand how IMF and EU officials cannot see this. For every law Europe introduces, we seem to add ten more.

I salute the officers of the Irish Road Haulage Association who traverse the world and have done so for charitable works, for example, in Bosnia and other places beyond. They do so with safety, respect and a proud Irish flag. They are not cowboys or fly-by-night operators. Certainly, we have cowboys and fly-by-night operators and they must be dealt with. We should be passing appropriate legislation for them rather than this Bill. We should introduce legislation to deal with the laundering of fuel, unlicensed hauliers and the blackguardism that goes on.

Some Deputies suggest we should put a truck off the road if one of the tyre appears to peel. Do they know anything about the weight of these lorries, the pressure they are under and the standards? Have those who drafted this legislation ever sat behind the wheel of a truck, lay under it to change a wheel, put a jack underneath to repair it, filled it with fuel or paid for the cost of the fuel? No. This is the problem with Ireland today. Officialdom has gone stark raving mad and Ministers have allowed it.

This is a fine legacy left by the former Minister, Noel Dempsey. I heard Deputy Dooley referring to it. Mr. Noel Brett and Mr. Gay Byrne were mentioned. I respect Gay Byrne as a broadcaster but he seems to have an eternal right to a job for life as chairman of the Road Safety Authority. I have eight children and not one of them knows who Gay Byrne is. We need to talk to young people. Modern sports stars or journalists should be used to get the message across to these people. I am referring to pedestrians and cyclists who need to be careful and understand the dangers of trucks. A truck driver cannot have eyes and ears for everything. Those in our schools should be educated and we should consider education policies to educate people about the dangers, especially on our under-classified roads which are not fit for trucks much of the time. They were built for the ass and cart or the horse and cart but now there are 40 ft trucks whose drivers are finding it impossible to keep manners on them because in many cases the county councils will not force the landowners to cut the hedges under the existing laws. We have gone mad rushing through new legislation while ignoring old legislation and common sense. I call on the Minister of State to appeal to the Minister to revisit this. I realise there are good initiatives relating to rural schools and rural transport and so on. The Minister should go to the road hauliers and consult them rather than officials in the Department or the Noel Bretts and Gay Byrnes who know nothing about lorries, lorry yards or the maintenance or costs of running these businesses. They have no clue and only put more pressure on them across the board.

I salute the council officials who have done a good job in taxation over the years. It is a retrograde step to take it away from them. We have seen this with the HSE, the Road Safety Authority, the National Roads Authority and the medical cards. It is a case of a repeated mess and taking away from local democracy and local people who understand what is going on. A man approached me last week. He had to drive a tractor he imported from Cahir in County Tipperary to the Revenue Commissioners in Limerick to get it assessed. I mean no disrespect to the person who examined it in Limerick but they probably would not know a tractor from a bullock, but that is the way of it. We have gone bananas.

People are trying to live and stay in business but we appear to be hell-bent on putting them all out of business. This applies to the previous Government, the Government before that and the current Government. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation is in America trying to bring jobs to Ireland but we at home are on a merry-go-round with officialdom gone mad trying to close down ordinary, decent, hard-working business people. Two or three road hauliers are going out of business each day because they cannot survive. The are insured, have their lorries tested, have proper wages, have the tachograph in the cab and are adhering to all the legislation but they are being forced out. Despite this, we want other officials to be appointed rather than gardaí. There is a fancy name for such an official: a commercial roadworthiness vehicle, CRV, test operator. I imagine this will be a civilian who will get a briefcase. He should know everything about a truck but he would not know the engine from the mudguard at the back. Despite this he has the power to pull in a driver and take him to a weighbridge 20 miles away although the driver may have a deadline to make on the Continent or elsewhere. The official might believe something is wrong with the truck because he might hear a rattle or his watch might rattle or be ticking. It is patent nonsense. Unless we get a grip on this throughout the country, the country will go under. I mean it from the bottom of my heart. I am in business and self-employed. This applies whether one is a shopkeeper, an ordinary agricultural contractor or a road haulier. Officialdom has gone mad. I mean no respect to the two officials sitting in the Chamber; they simply do not know. We should put these officials in these businesses for at least one or two weeks per year in order that they would understand the pain, pressure and therealpolitik of keeping businesses afloat and some sense of sanity would prevail while dealing with officialdom.

Our tractors were always assessed by Customs and Excise and that must be the way. Now one must drive a tractor 50 or 60 miles to a centre to meet an official. If it is wet, he will not come out in case he gets wet and one must drive home and come back again the following day. It is crazy and not good enough and we must cry halt.

I have no wish to have a go at Gay Byrne or Noel Brett but where were they when we were designing our wonderful motorways? All of this took place during the past ten or 15 years when they were in power with the former Minister, Mr. Dempsey. They built a motorway from Dublin to Cork without even a rest station. One cannot pull in to take care of the basic necessities. Members will know what I am talking about but it is a wet night and I will not go into it. I am simply referring to the basic essentials. Truck drivers are being treated like slaves. They have no place to stop to get cigarettes or some food. I condemn those responsible out of hand as well as the National Roads Authority, NRA. The way I describe it, we got rid of the IRA but now we have the NRA and it is almost as bad.

We will need the Senator from America to come back and oversee peace talks to get these officials to see some sense rather than carry briefcases. They should get out and understand what is going on in real Ireland. They should understand that people must generate business and must have respect for the laws. If we keep piling on the laws, every road haulier will need a solicitor to interpret all the legislation and to educate their drivers as well. These drivers have licences and have paid an increasing level of fees each year for the various tests they must do. One would think they were driving an aeroplane. Pilots are hardly as well-trained as these drivers, and rightly so. I am not suggesting we should cut short any legislation but unless we get some common sense back into the system in the country, we are going nowhere. I say as much proudly. I hope the Minister of State will consult the Minister and table amendments to the legislation because there is good in it.

We had "Prime Time Investigates". It has become the gospel of the land now. However, we saw what that programme did to a company in my county, Tipperary. The Department would not issue a licence because of "Prime Time Investigates". People should know that there have been some shoddy practices in "Prime Time Investigates". It might sound funny but it is not. It is the gospel according to St. Jude. I am unsure who is the patron saint of transport but I hope he comes down from heaven to help us.

St. Alan. Go raibh maith agat.

Deputy McGrath, we are still debating the Road Safety Authority (Commercial Vehicle Roadworthiness) Bill.

We are not in the Gaiety. We are in the Chamber.

I did not say we were but the officials who drew up this legislation are in the Gaiety.

In fairness, Deputy, we are on this Bill and there is no reasonable doubt that you have strayed from it somewhat.

Possibly, but they strayed away from reality more than 20 years ago.

The Deputy should speak to the Bill.

The system in Ireland has strayed from reality. They do not understand. All the officials should be sent out to these businesses to understand the effect of this measure. What impact assessment was done to determine how many road hauliers this measure would put out of business? An impact assessment was not done. We are bringing in legislative measure after legislative measure, smothering the people responsible in paper and to hell or to Connacht with it, to quote Cromwell. It is beyond a joke, and I am sorry if the Acting Chairman has that view.

Regarding "Prime Time Investigates", I intend raising this in the committee when we come back after dealing with the other report about the priest and others because they were blackguarding. They hired people to try to condemn good businesses. Blackguarding went on in that regard. We need to examine all those issues.

The Government hopes to raise €4.5 million as a result of this measure. That is wonderful. It hopes to have a cap of €45 for all tests. The €4.5 million will never be earned but the €45 will increase to €450. I can guarantee that as sure as it will get dark tonight because that is what has happened in the past.

I am disappointed to hear people condemn the NCT and DOE testers in local areas. They have to operate to high standards, and people can drive their vehicles to those centres but under this measure they will all have to come to Dublin and congest the traffic even more to get tested. We think big is powerful but it is not. We must be realistic. This system cannot be taken into one conglomerate. We should have learned by now that big is not wonderful.

A company in my town, Plant Care Ltd, went out of business last Thursday. I thank that company for the employment it provided. A receiver was sent in because it could not keep going. That business gave great employment and sponsorship to many local clubs, including in Longford town and Longford. It provided a great deal of employment and many services also but it has gone to the wall. That business is only one of many that have gone to the wall. I meet single hauliers every day of the week who simply gave up the ghost. They could not bring their wife or secretary in the cab with them to deal with all the certification that was required. Most of the trucks now have to have computers on board. We have to stop somewhere. Safety regulations for brakes, tyres, chassis, steering and so on are vital but not for all the Mickey Mouse nonsense that is going on. It is keeping fellows in employment. As I said earlier, a fellow carrying a briefcase comes into my business to test the machine but he cannot start it. I have to have a driver to start it for him. These people would not know how to get into the cab. We must have realism in this matter.

The "Prime Time Investigates" programme exposed the NCT centres, and rightly so if wrongdoing occurred, but "Prime Time Investigates" is not the programme we all thought it was; it is on the floor now. All I am asking for is fair play for business people, some of whom have been in business for 50 and 60 years. They started off with a horse and cart, moved on to the Comer trucks, then to rigid trucks and then to articulated trucks. They gave employment and took the risks with the banks. If we do away with all the risk takers, how will we recover? Those people did it. They can do it but they need fair play. The lifeblood is being squeezed out of them because they cannot get the bonds if an issue arises with their licence. They cannot get overdrafts from the banks that would help them to keep in business. These people are providing employment. What about all the families who were depending on Plant Care Ltd., the company that went out of business last Thursday, and the five, six or ten companies that went to the wall since last Thursday?

The madness has got to stop. I am all for road safety but where are the heroes now? The former Minister, Noel Dempsey, ran off like a scalded cat. He designed the motorways with his officials, Gay Byrne and Noel Brett and left us without rest areas. They should have been charged with reckless behaviour for building motorways without a place for truckers or car drivers to stop, just as some Ministers should have been charged with reckless behaviour for the damage done to this country but they will not be touched. They are the untouchables. I cannot wait for Deputy Shane Ross to publish his book about the untouchables. I hope he mentions a few from the Road Safety Authority, RSA, and the National Roads Authority, NRA, because one cannot get through to those people. One cannot talk to them. I have seen where the NRA will not allow businesses develop in south Tipperary because they will not give permission for an exit onto the road yet one can see the most dastardly things hanging out over motorways in other counties. An investigation should be done in that regard also. I have no faith in the NRA. I have less faith in the RSA. I wish this Minister well but I had no faith in the previous Minister.

I congratulate the county councils for the job they have done but it seems everything is being taken from them. They are closing by stealth, and to hell with it. The Minister, Deputy Hogan, Big Phil, tried to amalgamate South Tipperary and North Tipperary County Councils. The Deputy and myself will be representing one constituency on the next occasion. Those are bullying tactics. Decent public servants who do good work and provide a good service are being thrown to the wind without any assurance as to where they will be located.

On the question of Garda resources, I regularly meet Garda inspectors who have to police these vehicles. I have no problem stopping for a garda but I have a problem stopping for someone with a briefcase because he could be a kidnapper. He will not have a badge on his arm and there will be no blue lights flashing. I do not know what we will call these special people. I believe they will become an endangered species. I respect all the laws. I never break laws nor encourage anyone to break them but truckers cannot adhere to this measure. The Garda tells me that in certain areas they do not have a squad car yet the Minister for Defence can provide helicopters and hire Army planes to watch fellows cutting turf. They will send helicopters after those of us in the lorries to see if the back doors are closed. This is patent nonsense. We are persecuting ordinary people who want to be law-abiding, pay their way, get employment and generate business. We are giving responsibility for all of that to the officials. We then send them off with a fat retirement pension and then rehire them, regardless of any investigation or report that has been done. It is like the amalgamation of my constituency, North and South Tipperary, we have two retired officials from the Department. If they are retired they should be playing golf. They were probably playing golf when they were working. That is the way things have gone, and it is not funny. It appears everyone in these jobs has to be a retired official. A layman is never considered for any of these jobs.

I am speaking honestly. The Minister should go after the diesel launderers because the fellows who use the laundered diesel are also using defective tyres and defective vehicles but some of those people are the untouchables, and people are afraid to confront them. They have to be confronted and stopped from undermining the good practices of ordinary, decent road hauliers, their employees, their families and the local garages and businesses that support the trucking companies yet we want to move responsibility for that area to some big place, perhaps inside Tallaght Hospital. That is what we like to do. Everything must be near the M50. We forget about rural Ireland. It is time we got back to basics and to rural Ireland. We must understand who wants to live in rural Ireland, create a job for himself or herself, provide employment and pay taxes. The Government will pay the pensions for all these officials who go off with hundreds of thousands of euro. When it gets too hot in this kitchen the people are sent off to Europe because they have too much to tell, like the bankers and others. I will not name any officials. I hope this measure will be consigned to the dustbin.

Debate adjourned.