I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this issue, which, as the Minister is well aware, is of great concern to the road haulage sector. It certainly appears that Irish authorities have barely policed the cabotage legislation, which has resulted in the awarding of haulage contracts worth millions of euro to foreign haulage firms that pay no taxes in Ireland and employ no people here. The Road Safety Authority is responsible for the enforcement of legislation, along with the Garda, and its figures reveal that from 2012 to July 2013 only 78 vehicles were checked in Ireland and only a single breach of the regulations was uncovered. That is too little investigation. In comparison, the UK Department of Transport made over 43,000 checks relating to cabotage legislation, with 310 offences detected.
The legislation allows every haulier to perform up to three deliveries or cabotage operations within a week, starting the day after the unloading of international cargo in the country of destination. This was introduced by the EU to avoid an influx of drivers on lower wages flooding the EU markets. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport previously indicated that it was monitoring the level of investigations carried out by the relevant authorities. The head of the Irish Road Haulage Association, Mr. Eoin Galvin, has previously had meetings with the Minister, who promised to clamp down on breaches of the law. I accept that to some extent this falls outside the Minister's remit, as it is a matter for the Garda and the Department of Justice and Equality; nevertheless, he will have to use his influence to protect the road haulage sector because of what has been happening in the summer and is continuing even now.
As the Minister knows, the issue came to light over the summer after a number of foreign hauliers were found to be operating out of Foynes Port, forcing the Irish Road Haulage Association to resort to a blockade when local hauliers had to lay off drivers after contracts were given to foreign firms. In my view, which is shared by many, these firms were acting illegally and flouting the cabotage laws as applied here. At least four haulage companies from Germany, Holland, Scotland and the North appear to be flouting European cabotage legislation, which bans foreign hauliers from doing more than three journeys in a country before they leave. The firms have been involved in the transport of parts for wind turbines being imported by Siemens through Foynes Port. The legislation signed into law by the Minister in January 2012 allows every haulier to perform up to three deliveries or cabotage operations within a week, starting the day after the unloading of international cargo. However, it is illegal for haulage vehicles to enter the State empty and then carry deliveries. I have had the opportunity to visit Foynes port and see what is going on down there, and it appears that trucks and specialised moving equipment are being brought in without any loads and then being used to take heavy, outsized equipment from the port to various destinations, particularly where wind turbines are being placed. It is clear that this is being done in breach of cabotage laws. What is most surprising is that most of these wide loads, because of their nature, get a Garda escort. These people appear to be breaking the law, but they are being escorted in their work by the police, who are acting from a road safety perspective.
Within the past month the Irish Road Haulage Association has alleged that UK-registered trucks have entered the State and carried out deliveries for the ESB to the Carrickmines site from Dublin Port, again with the escort of gardaí. I am not making any allegations against gardaí, who are carrying out a job in travelling with these loads to protect other vehicles on the road, ensure traffic is not delayed, etc. In essence, these companies are breaking a law of the State, which is regrettable, and the issue needs the involvement of this Minister and the Minister for Justice and Equality. The Garda should also review its actions in this regard.