I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me the opportunity to raise this important issue. The issue of dirt bikes has plagued not just my community but communities across the country. People are now being seriously injured because of the reckless behaviour of some youths. During the summer I was contacted by residents of Rossmore Park in Ballyfermot, who expressed grave concerns in respect of the use of dirt bikes by youths in the area in terms of the noise that is generated and, most importantly, the risk to public safety.
I contacted the Garda locally to highlight the problem and Sergeant Gwen McKenna of the Ballyfermot Garda station provided a comprehensive response for which I am very grateful. I commend the report which was well laid out and emphasised the problems the Garda is experiencing. The report stated that the Garda is aware of the problems with dirt bikes locally but has real difficulty determining if a person is compliant with road traffic legislation. A licence is required where the motorcycle engine capacity exceeds 49 cc. However, a garda cannot determine the engine capacity without physically stopping the youths, which is nearly impossible in many cases. A number of months ago in Ballyfermot a member of An Garda Síochána was seriously assaulted when trying to seize dirt bikes. This has become a serious issue in the area and needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. I understand the legal requirement to hold a licence only applies to public places as defined in the Road Traffic Act. However, dirt bikes are mainly used on waste ground, in fields, and, in recent months, on walkways near the canal, which are not defined as public places and, therefore, the legislation does not apply. The sad reality is that many youths on dirt bikes completely ignore the law and have no regard for local gardaí, regardless of whether they are in a public place or anywhere else.
Gardaí cannot access places because the vehicles are made to drive over rough terrain, which makes it difficult for officers to follow them. It makes their job twice as hard when they are pursuing three or four of them fleeing the scene at the same time. Gardaí have told me that some of the users are as young as eight and have no understanding of the rules of the road. When gardaí call to their parents, it can be quite difficult to get any response regarding their children's use of these dirt bikes.
Gardaí regularly visit local schools to explain the dangers of dirt bikes and to talk about road safety but, unfortunately, their advice often falls on deaf ears. Each year we provide money for youth projects, community development, youth clubs, GAA clubs and football clubs, and yet many of the youths who are involved in riding dirt bikes do not attend any of these projects or are not interested in confining themselves to being involved in these clubs.
The Garda is doing what it can but its hands are tied because of the limit of legislation governing dirt bikes. That is why I am asking the Minister to consider amending the road traffic legislation to see what might be done to address the problem before somebody is seriously hurt.
Last week I witnessed an incident near Blackhorse Bridge in Inchicore where two elderly people were walking home from getting their messages and were nearly knocked over by a youth on a dirt bike entering through the exit to their senior citizen complex. This is a very serious issue and it needs to be addressed. I look forward to the Minister's response.