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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 17 Oct 2018

Vol. 973 No. 6

Road Traffic (Quads and Scramblers) (Amendment) Bill 2017: Second Stage [Private Members]

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

I think we can all agree that in recent years the use of quad bikes and scramblers has become not just a nuisance but also a real danger to ordinary people who use public spaces such as parks and even when just walking through their own housing estates. Without exaggeration, it is a major problem that is particularly prevalent in urban areas and one about which I hear increasingly when I meet people from my constituency and elsewhere and the Garda seems to be powerless to stop it. At safety forum and joint policing committee meetings and community events, with residents, I have repeatedly raised the issue. People have a real fear in taking their children to the park to play ball, walking their dog or even just going to the local shop because of the activities engaged in by those who use quad bikes and scramblers. We have just had one of the hottest summers on record when people took advantage of the good weather, as did those who own quad bikes and scramblers. How can any family with children relax when there is the real possibility and fear of being injured by such vehicles? Quad bikes and scramblers have caused a number of fatalities and serious injuries. The most recent and shocking example was when Ilabek Avetian received serious head injuries in Darndale Park when a scrambler landed on him while he was sunbathing. This innocent man is now in a vegetative state in hospital. His wife, Anzhela, was also injured in the incident when she suffered a broken pelvis. Her life has been turned upside down and she is facing the real prospect of being made homeless while caring for her seriously injured husband because she has no income to pay the rent or on which even to live.

Communities believe they are effectively being terrorised by those who use quad bikes and scramblers in public places, especially local parks. Such vehicles are repeatedly being used by some to damage property and football pitches and even to threaten people, while also engaging in other anti-social activity. It is every parent's nightmare that the next casualty will be their child run down while playing in a public space. Families and communities should be able to enjoy a public amenity during the week or at the weekend without having to fear for their safety. It is hard to believe I have been raising this issue since I was a Dublin City councillor years ago. It is disheartening to think the problems and issues have multiplied.

Shockingly, quad bikes and scramblers are readily available and cheap to buy. A casual search on today showed that a person could buy a quad bike for as little as €180 and a scrambler for as little as €200. One can even buy a child's mini scrambler for €300 or less. Who would buy a child such a bike that could pose a danger, not only to the child but also to the general public? With Christmas around the corner, I appeal to parents not to buy mini bikes, quad bikes or scramblers for their children.

The Road Traffic Act 2004 makes it an offence to supply a mechanically propelled vehicle to a person under 16 years of age, including as a loan or a gift. That does not seem to deter many people as I have seen myself that many of those who are riding such vehicles around parks and estates can be as young as six or seven years of age. Last year, Deputy Imelda Munster, Sinn Féin spokesperson for transport, and I submitted a Bill to amend the Road Traffic Act 1994, which would allow gardaí to deal effectively with quad and scrambler users who continue to flout the rules of the road and who do not have a licence, insurance or the vehicle registered in any way.

Currently the law prohibits the use of these vehicles on public roads unless fully insured and taxed. However, there is a clear gap in the legislation allowing people who use these vehicles for anti-social behaviour to get around the limited powers gardaí have and avoid any penalties. Under current legislation, gardaí have found it difficult to deal with the use of quads and scramblers in public places from an enforcement perspective. Crucially, gardaí have limited power to seize and keep vehicles engaged in the sort of anti-social activity I have described. Housing estates, greens and parks are not considered public space under current legislation and this is clearly an anomaly in the law that needs to be corrected in legislation. The law as it stands now means that many vehicles seized by gardaí in public spaces are returned to the registered owners with little or no sanction on the owners because current legislation does not consider these areas as public spaces. Therefore those who ride their quads and scramblers in such areas are not in breach of the law.

This Bill, which Deputy Munster and I introduced last year, will extend the powers the gardaí have to include public spaces. The Bill will address the definition of public space, giving gardaí power to deal with vehicles being used in such a manner. This Bill is designed to correct anomalies. There is clearly something missing in the definition of public spaces. I hope that the Minister, the Government and others in this House will support us. The indicators are different. I feel that we need support with this. I have been at safety forums and policing forums where gardaí, including senior gardaí, have indicated that there is a major problem. I know the Minister has indicated that he will oppose this and I have heard his excuse. I feel that this needs to be looked at. I offer a hand to say that if the Minister lets this go to Committee Stage, we will look at whatever he has to say, whether amendments or other suggestions, and take them on board. I do the same for his colleagues in Fianna Fáil. I hope he will think about this.

This Bill will amend the Road Traffic Act 1994. It will correct an anomaly in road traffic legislation to allow gardaí to deal with those who operate quad and scrambler bikes illegally. This is a serious problem in many urban areas. It is certainly an issue in my constituency and my town, Drogheda. It is dangerous and frightening for local residents and for those operating the vehicles, many of whom are minors. This Bill is not against scramblers or quads or those who operate them. It is not an attack on any legitimate road user. It is a road safety measure that has the potential to bring enormous benefits to communities affected by this problem.

In some urban areas we have a situation where people, many of them underage, are operating quads and scramblers illegally. They are being driven without a licence, insurance or registration. In many cases these vehicles are being driven dangerously, damaging property, injuring other road users and causing havoc in local communities. Currently, the use of all-terrain vehicles, ATVs, on public roads is prohibited by law unless the vehicle is fully insured, taxed and meets all other regulatory requirements. There is a legal loophole which means the gardaí cannot take action if these vehicles are operated in residential greens and public parks as these are not currently defined in law as public spaces. This has led to a situation where people are engaging in anti-social and dangerous behaviour in residential areas. The Bill aims to rectify this. We are filling the gap to redefine "public space" to ensure that gardaí can take action when people are driving recklessly, no more and no less. We think this is a practical solution to the problem and we hope that other parties and the Government will support it.

There is a significant amount of regulation in the area of road traffic legislation. However, it remains a problem. Gardaí have said that they seriously struggle to manage this issue in public greens and parks, finding the existing laws very difficult to enforce. Gardaí simply do not have the power to confiscate and detain ATVs that are operated illegally in public spaces. The Government has said on many occasions that gardaí have this power but local community and safety forums, the gardaí and others have contradicted this. They say that gardaí cannot currently stop people operating quads on housing estates and in parks as these areas are not strictly defined in legislation as public property or public roads. When gardaí seize these vehicles, they have to return them to their owners without sanctioning the driver or the owner as they are technically not in breach of the law, as the greens and parks they are driving on are not covered in legislation.

In December 2016, then Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, seemed to acknowledge the difficulty, saying:

Despite the legislative provisions in this area, the Garda authorities have indicated that the use of quad bikes and scramblers by minors and youths in public parks has proven difficult to deal with from an enforcement perspective. Garda members are instructed not to pursue youths on quad bikes, scramblers, etc. owing to the inherent safety issues involved and the risk of serious injury or death. Therefore the opportunity to actually bring these vehicles to a stop is rare.

That is a remarkable statement. Does that mean gardaí are no longer able to pursue or chase people who have broken the law? The Government is clearly grasping at straws looking for reasons to oppose this legislation. This Bill includes these areas under the definition of "public space", thus giving the gardaí the power to take action to deal with this illegal and dangerous activity. If this Bill is successful, it means that gardaí will be able to impound those vehicles. The Minister knows it is a problem. People are living in fear in some housing estates because of the anti-social behaviour and dangerous driving of these ATVs.

I have been raising this issue since I was elected and my colleague Deputy Ellis has been raising it for many years. It is almost a year and a half, as Deputy Ellis said, since we introduced the Bill. The problem remains. It is getting much worse in some areas. Between 2015 and 2017, 189 people were injured by these vehicles. These figures do not take into account those injured this year. The urgency of this issue was made loud and clear this summer when a man and his wife were run over by a scrambler when they were sunbathing in a park in Darndale. The woman had injuries. Her husband suffered catastrophic head injuries. His doctors said he suffered "severe traumatic brain injury" and his injuries are understood to be life-changing. His wife has said that their lives have been ruined. His wife has also said that there is no law prohibiting the use of scrambler bikes in a public park and she wants to see this changed. How long will the Minister ignore this for? We need to step up. We cannot risk another tragedy. The Minister, Deputy Ross, said that he will oppose the Bill in case there are unintended consequences. We requested a note from his office to explain these consequences and we received it about an hour ago. The note we received says the Bill will potentially affect intoxicated driving cases.

We have all known for years that thousands of people get away with road traffic offences because the legislation is a patchwork of Acts going back to the 1960s and, as a result, it is full of loopholes. The legislation must be consolidated to close those loopholes. That is the job of the Minister. I have been asking him to do that for the past two years. It is the Minister's job and he does not need expensive consultants to do it. He should make sure the expertise is within his Department.

The note also says that if our Bill passed it would risk increasing road traffic fatalities. That is an outrageous conclusion to draw. If the Department wants to reduce fatalities on the roads, it should consolidate road traffic legislation to make it easier to convict people and it should invest in the traffic corps. It is as simple as that, and the Minister is aware of that.

The Minister has also said that a multi-pronged approach is being looked at. The former Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, however, said the same thing in 2016, two years ago. An example of that approach, given by the former Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, was "engineering solutions" such as enhanced fencing and bike gates. That is not a solution. It will not work in open green spaces in residential areas. The Minister knows that fine well. Is he proposing to enclose entire green spaces in residential areas to stop quad bikes? That is ridiculous and the Minister knows that is the case. The solution is in the Bill but the Minister refuses to support it.

The Minister has ignored many things in his portfolio and I implore him not to let this be another one. I sincerely hope that Fianna Fáil will support this legislation. There is no concern about this Bill that could not be addressed on Committee Stage. We have repeatedly said we will work with other parties that are willing to get this Bill through. I hope Fianna Fáil does not take the cowardly approach and abstain or, worse, vote against the Bill. That would show the party is out of touch with the public and their concerns about anti-social and reckless driving on public spaces and greens.

Last week Fianna Fáil issued a press statement asking what the point was of the Minister, Deputy Ross. If Fianna Fáil abstains or votes against the Bill, the same question could be asked of it. As Members are aware, this is a growing problem in many towns across the State. Christmas is coming, which means we will see more scramblers and quad bikes showing up in urban areas. Every year the problem gets worse. We have laws to deal with it, but they cannot be enforced in some areas because of the legislative anomaly. I urge the Minister to support the Bill today. If there are minor issues that require change, we can do that on Committee Stage, but it is most important to those affected that this matter is addressed.

I welcome the fact that this Bill has been brought to the House. It is only appropriate that I should acknowledge the sentiments behind it because I support most of what has been said by the proposers, as does the Government. I acknowledge both the role Deputy Ellis has played for a long period in pioneering this legislation and the sentiments behind it. I share those sentiments. I fully support what Deputy Ellis is trying to do. The passion with which he spoke today and when I met him last night is not lost on anyone involved in promoting the legislation and trying to outlaw the activities he outlined.

I also acknowledge what Deputy Munster said. I agree that this is a real and urgent problem that must be addressed. I and others have identified that this is something that must be tackled by the Government. That said, I do not retreat in the face of anybody who says that we have avoided difficulties on issues of road safety and the safety of lives. That is a top priority of mine, the Department and anyone involved in the transport portfolio. Road safety and the saving of lives must come first because that is what it is all about. It is unfair of Deputy Munster to say that we have not been addressing those issues adequately. She knows full well that the road safety legislation, which thankfully Sinn Féin supported and for which we are very grateful, has changed the atmosphere and I hope will save more lives. Road deaths were down last year because it is a Government priority and the Road Safety Authority, RSA, has been running some very effective campaigns. It is too early to say whether the numbers will be down this year again but I hope that will be the case. As of today, they are down by six. That is not adequate. Nothing is adequate, but the problem is being addressed with the same passion with which Deputy Ellis addressed this issue. I support him. The only problem we have here is the way of addressing it, which could perhaps have been tackled earlier given that the Bill has been in the legislative lottery process for a long time.

I am happy to concede that one looks on these issues differently when one gets into government because one has to look at the legalities of things rather than the objectives and the route which one will take there. We are on the same journey. I suggest Deputy Ellis is taking the wrong route because of the difficulties to which the wording would give rise. Having studied the Bill, the conclusion is that it is not a matter for road traffic legislation but it is something that is being addressed elsewhere.

I acknowledge Sinn Féin's contribution and if I can do anything to arrange a meeting of minds on the issue in the near future, I will do so. I would be happy to do that because we want to pursue the same objectives, see lives saved and address the scourge of illegal activities by those who use quads and scramblers in the manner outlined.

In the light of the serious injuries received by a man caused by a scrambler bike in a park in north Dublin in June of this year, and because of other incidents concerning such vehicles, it is critically important that we all redouble our efforts, including an examination of the powers available to An Garda Síochána under public order and criminal justice legislation. It is not appropriate, however, to tackle this issue by changing the definition of “public place” in the Road Traffic Acts or in part of the Road Traffic Acts. The Private Members' Bill seeks to expand the definition of “public place” for the purposes of section 41 of the Road Traffic Act 1994 to include any outdoor area, including public parks, to which members of the public have or are permitted to have access, whether as of right or as a trespasser or otherwise, and which is used for public recreational purposes. The definition of “public place” is central to the application of road traffic legislation, particularly in the area of intoxicated driving. An amendment such as that proposed puts that definition at significant risk. The consequences of that would be very serious. The definition of “public place” in current road traffic legislation has been the subject of many legal challenges to intoxicated driving prosecutions. That has resulted in the current legal definition being robust and widely accepted in terms of the enforcement and subsequent prosecution of road traffic legislation. Such enforcement has been a significant contributor to saving lives on our roads, with 2017 being the year with the lowest number of fatalities since records began. Rather than risk increasing road traffic fatalities and undermining the current acceptance of the definition of “public place” in road traffic legislation, the issue of inappropriate use of scramblers in publicly owned parks or spaces would be more properly dealt with under public order and criminal justice legislation.

In that regard, earlier this year, the Department of Justice and Equality convened meetings with key Departments and agencies on the misuse of scramblers and quad bikes, and a multi-agency task force was established, including representatives of An Garda Síochána, the local authorities and other bodies concerned. As part of the work of the interagency group, the Department of Justice and Equality is reviewing criminal justice and public order legislation to ensure that An Garda Síochána possesses the necessary powers to deal with the misuse of scramblers and quad bikes in public places other than those covered in the Road Traffic Acts. The Department of Justice and Equality has sought advice from the Office of the Attorney General on quads and scrambler bikes, in particular concerning a number of provisions contained in public order legislation. That will determine whether any legislative amendments are necessary to criminal justice and public order legislation to assist in curbing anti-social activity insofar as scramblers and quad bikes are concerned. For example, section 3 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994, as amended, includes a definition of the term “public place”, which includes all areas of a public or local authority park. Legal advice has been sought from the Office of the Attorney General as to the powers of An Garda Síochána under criminal justice legislation when it comes to the use of scramblers and quad bikes in these areas.

These include search and seizure of scramblers and quad bikes by An Garda Síochána with a view to identifying potential legislative solutions. The public safety and public order concerns relating to scramblers and quad bikes are best addressed through the multi-pronged response being pursued by the interagency group. The approach includes a review of appropriate criminal justice and public order legislation, education and awareness-raising measures, engagement at local community level, etc. It was agreed by this task force that the issue must be tackled by a number of means, including consideration of enforcement measures, education and awareness-raising measures, relevant legislation, if necessary, and the potential provision of designated facilities where such vehicles could be used in a safe environment. At the most recent meeting, it was agreed that road safety officers from the local authorities would organise a campaign urging parents not to buy scramblers or quad bikes as Christmas presents for minors. The Road Safety Authority will run a similar campaign in the run-up to Christmas. The local authorities will log complaints and incidents relating to scramblers and quad bikes in open spaces and parks during a particular week in the latter part of 2018 to attempt to gauge the scale of the issue. The task force is due to meet again next month to review progress and will engage again with local authorities and An Garda Síochána to fully understand the difficulties encountered in dealing with this type of anti-social behaviour and to learn from community policing successes in this area.

The Department of Justice and Equality is consulting further with local authorities in the context of the many examples of positive engagement fostered by local authorities with local communities. A number of initiatives and projects are of potential interest insofar as the misuse of scramblers and quad bikes are concerned.

I reiterate that I am fully behind the excellent intentions of the movers of this Bill. However, I do not believe it is appropriate to tackle the issue by changing the definition of "public place" in the Road Traffic Acts. I see a solution to this issue coming from the work of the interagency group, chaired by the Department of Justice and Equality and established earlier this year to deal with the misuse of quads and scramblers. The legal advice the Department of Justice and Equality receives from the Office of the Attorney General with regard to these matters will be instructive in providing a solution as well.

The intentions of Deputy Ellis and Sinn Féin are correct and we support them. We simply believe that the risks attached to changing the definition and the associated approach are high. There is also a danger of undermining other legislation, a point to which Senator Munster referred. I meant to say "Deputy Munster" - that was a Freudian slip and I hope it never comes to pass. In any event, those risks are not worth taking. The consequences of undermining other legislation would be unforgivable. Therefore, as a matter of urgency we are addressing other ways of ensuring that the measures Sinn Féin is proposing can be secured.

I intend to share time with Deputy Curran and Deputy John Brassil by permission of the House.

I compliment Deputy Ellis on using Sinn Féin's Private Members' time to bring forward this Bill in his attempt to try to address the current lacuna in the law. Deputy Ellis referred to the urgency of the matter. He also noted that he introduced the Bill in the Dáil a year and a half ago, but it has taken Sinn Féin 18 months to use Private Members' business to bring the Bill to the floor of the Dáil.

My colleague, Deputy John Curran, raised the matter in a parliamentary question to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, in December 2016. In his reply, the Minister stated the Garda had sufficient powers to deal with this menace. We know that is not the case. The delay in the Minister coming to the realisation that there needs to be a change in this law has resulted in the ongoing illegal use of these quads by people who are terrorising others in public places, often causing serious injury. My colleague, Councillor Paul McAuliffe, has raised this issue on several occasions at meetings of the joint policing committee. He too is keen to see legislation to address this issue. However, our job is to ensure that we enact robust legislation that is not open to challenge and does not undermine other legislation.

I realise Sinn Féin is looking over to see what Fianna Fáil is doing on this. We know Sinn Féin is a latecomer to the law of the land, but the simple fact of the matter is that we must ensure any legislation passed in the House is robust and accurate. Not only will this legislation, if enacted, be open to challenge but it has the capacity to render all other traffic legislation vulnerable to legal challenge and impede enforcement of the law of the land. I cannot imagine anyone wants to see such an outcome.

Several legal challenges have been brought against prosecutions of road traffic offences on the basis of whether the alleged offences took place in a private place. Over the years, the definition of "public place" in the context of road traffic law has been strengthened as a result of these cases and the understanding of the courts has been deeply enriched. Amending the definition of "public place", as this Bill proposes, would potentially undo much of the work that has been done. The current definition of a "public place" in the road traffic legislation is "any public road" and "any street, road or other place to which the public have access with vehicles whether as of right or by permission and whether subject to or free of charge".

This Private Members' Bill proposes to amend section 41 of the Road Traffic Act 1994, which concerns the detention of vehicles, and expand the definition of "public place" by adding the following meaning: "any outdoor area including public parks to which members of the public have or are permitted to have access, whether as of right or as a trespasser or otherwise and which is used for public recreational purposes".

It took the Minister months, if not years, to bring forward an amendment to the road traffic laws. As I indicated, 18 months ago he took the view there was no need to address this issue. There was, however, a clear need to address the issue. In December 2017, the Law Society of Ireland called on the Government to tear up the current road traffic laws and start again. Its chief executive, Ken Murphy, stated:

Road Traffic Acts in Ireland are needlessly complex and confusing and need urgent consolidation and simplification.

There is consensus within the legal profession that Road Traffic legislation is needlessly complex and confusing, as they were described by the late Supreme Court judge, Justice Adrian Hardiman. There are 22 different Acts on the books that deal with road traffic laws, with hundreds of other tangentially-related pieces of legislation that require consideration when judges are adjudicating on road law violations.

David Staunton, the barrister and author of the book “Drunken Driving”, has argued that we need to tear up the current system and start again. That is a conclusion that our profession would support.

Such needless complexity in legislation undermines public confidence in the justice system.

The Minister stated he supports the principle of the Bill. We on this side also want to see the principle realised. I have no doubt Deputy Ellis is sincere and genuine about the legislation and we want the matter addressed. Earlier, I asked Deputy Ellis whether he would be prepared to withdraw this Bill for two months to enable the Department of Justice and Equality to work with him and other Deputies to bring forward legislation that will not leave other road traffic legislation open to challenge. That might be a way to move this forward. Will the Minister give such a commitment?

The Minister said that road safety is of paramount concern to him in his role as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. To be fair, it is one of few areas on which he has been able to bring forward legislation in the Dáil in the two years since his appointment. When does he intend to follow the advice of the Law Society of Ireland and begin working as a matter of priority to address the complexities of the road traffic legislation?

Does he intend to consolidate it to ensure it is fit for purpose, not open to challenge and that it will reduce the number of serious injuries and fatalities on our roads?

The other recommendation the Law Society made to the Government in December last year was the need to increase the number of judges because of the backlog in getting cases addressed by the judicial system. We know that the only intervention from the Minister, Deputy Ross, regarding the appointment of judges is the prevention and holding up of the appointment of judges. If we want people convicted of road traffic offences put off the road, we need more judges in the District Court to hear those cases and ensure that offenders are suspended and put off the road.

Deputy Curran and Councillor Paul McAuliffe have raised this issue previously. My colleague and our deputy party leader, Deputy Dara Calleary, produced a Bill on it. There is cross-party support for ensuring that a solution can be achieved in regard to this menace on our roads and in public spaces, but we have to be conscious that we do it right, that it is fit for purpose and not open to legal challenge. I ask Sinn Féin to withdraw the Bill and work with us in Fianna Fáil and the Government to ensure we can bring forward robust legislation that will not be open to interpretation or legal challenge.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this legislation. It is an issue that I and others have raised consistently in this House over the past two and a half years yet the problem of the dangerous use of quad and scrambler bikes in parks, other public areas and housing estates is getting worse. The problem is growing year on year. During the summer there was a very serious case in one of our parks in Darndale, and there have been fatalities also. Their use is not just a nuisance factor; it involves real danger.

This is an issue local authorities are acutely aware of as it comes up regularly at all their meetings. I sit on the joint policing committee in South Dublin County Council's administrative area. At every meeting, this issue is top of the agenda as the most problematic to deal with, and the problem is not getting any better. Local authorities take as many preventative steps as they can to deal with this problem in terms of boundary treatments of parks, kissing gates and so forth but, inevitably, regardless of the physical actions and engineering solutions they try to implement, they do not achieve the target. They are vandalised, broken down, rammed and so on, and the problem persists. When one attends a joint policing committee, it is interesting to see that everybody is singing off the same hymn sheet in terms of this problem. A legislative solution to it has to be found. The building out and engineering solutions are not working.

Sinn Féin talks about the parks, but this is not just a problem in parks and open spaces. It is also a problem on the roads in our housing estates, in shopping centre car-----

We have that-----

I am just making the point that it is happening throughout estates. Many open areas in our parks that should be recreational areas are now no-go areas. People are afraid to use them. I am involved with all my colleagues from the area but in particular with one colleague in South Dublin County Council, who is here today. We have a high-level group. I will not name the park for obvious reasons but a substantial effort is being made involving the gardaí, the council officials and the elected representatives to try to gain public ownership of our park, bring it back into use and deal with the scourge of the illegal and dangerous use of quad bikes and scramblers.

While my colleague, Deputy Troy, and the Minister set out the challenges this legislation would pose in terms of other road traffic legislation and identifying public open spaces, I do not believe the legislation would be as effective as we might think. I say that because at every joint policing committee meeting I have attended the gardaí indicate clearly, and these are public meetings so it is a matter of public record, that they have been instructed not to stop people physically using those bikes. If someone is using quad or scrambler bikes on a public road or in a park, the gardaí are not in a position to enforce the laws physically. Currently, it is illegal for such bikes to be on the roads but from a practical enforcement point of view, the gardaí cannot enforce the laws for their own health and safety and that of those engaged in the activity. From that point of view, I do not believe the legislation as presented is sufficient. We need to go further than that.

I was glad to hear the Minister singing off the same page as everybody else and that he is interested in trying to develop a solution. I have been frustrated. The first record I have of raising this issue with the Minister was on 7 December 2016. Frankly, when I read the answer at the time I could see he was oblivious to the fact that there was an issue with these bikes. He outlined all the existing laws in the reply. He stated that various quads and other bikes in a public place must have insurance, road tax, a driving licence, the driver must wear a helmet and that there are severe penalties under the road traffic laws. He went on to state that a park can be dealt with by local authorities by way of various by-laws. He went on to indicate that the Road Traffic Act 2004 makes it an offence to supply a mechanically propelled vehicle to a person under 16, regardless of whether it is a gift. He stated also that enforcement of the road traffic laws is a matter for An Garda Síochána and that he is informed it is satisfied that it has the necessary powers to deal with cases concerning the use of quads, scramblers and bikes. That is what the Minister said in his reply but at the same time in our joint policing committee, the gardaí were saying something completely different. That line persisted for a long time, so the Minister's change of view today is most welcome.

I did not ask questions just of the Minister. I also asked them of the Minister for Justice and Equality. I want to acknowledge the change in direction the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, has taken in the past year in that he has realised that an inter-agency approach must be taken to this problem if we are to deal with it significantly. To that end, he has convened a number of meetings on it but one in particular across Departments and agencies. He has also engaged with the local authorities, which know at first hand the problems these vehicles are causing in our parks.

I commend the initiative taken by the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, but it is time that that now results in legislation being brought forward. The type of legislation required must go much further than just referring to road traffic Acts. There must be power in the legislation to have these vehicles seized when they are not in use. Everybody living in the housing estates knows who owns them. They have seen them in use and they see the problems they create. There must be a mechanism from an intelligence-led point of view whereby the Garda has the power to seize them when these people return to their homes and not try to apprehend them when they are in use on the streets or in parks.

I commend the effort of my Sinn Féin colleagues in bringing this Bill to the floor of the Dáil. This is a scourge on the environment. I urge the Minister, irrespective of the outcome of the vote on this measure, to work in particular with the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, to bring concrete proposals to this House as soon as possible.

Like my colleagues, I very much support the sentiment behind this Bill. As someone who lives in a seaside resort, I am aware the inappropriate use of quad bikes and scramblers is a constant danger. The very tragic situation that occurred this summer was an accident that was always going to happen. If something is not done about this issue, I am afraid it will happen again.

I welcome the spirit of this Bill. I listened with interest to the Minister's contribution. He has a good understanding of the problem but, unfortunately, it will be difficult to find a solution to it.

I very much support the call by my colleague, Deputy Troy, for the withdrawal of the Bill for a number of months to enable the Minister's officials come up with a solution that is workable. The definition of "public place" and the possible unintended consequences that would have in other areas of road traffic safety are worrying.

I fear the Bill, as it stands, is unworkable, but there has to be a solution. In Kerry County Council we introduced by-laws that were helpful and gave the council some control over the issue, but at the end of the day they still left the Garda more or less powerless to deal with inappropriate use of quad bikes and scramblers. This is an opportunity to deal with the issue and I hope the Minister will come back and give us a commitment that he will put a working group together with officials from his Department and the Department of Justice and Equality to find a workable solution to a problem that everyone in this House wants to tackle. I do not doubt Deputy Dessie Ellis's genuine concern to deal with it, but there is no point in pursuing a course of action that will not result in the effective control of this scourge on our society. I support the call of my colleague, Deputy Robert Troy, that we take a further look at this issue and withdraw the legislation for a period and come back with something concrete within a very specific timeframe of two months.

I am happy to support the Road Traffic (Quads and Scramblers) (Amendment) Bill 2017 and congratulate Deputy Dessie Ellis on bringing it forward. The problem of the misuse of quad bikes and scrambler motorcycles has become more and more prevalent in the past five years. In the past three years over 180 people have been injured in accidents involving off-road vehicles. Of the 180, we cannot forgot the terrible story of Ilabek Avetian, a 39 year old Armenian man who was hospitalised with a series of head injuries after an incident in a park when a scrambler bike landed on him as he was sunbathing with his wife last June. The couple had moved to Ireland from Lithuania only a couple of months previously to seek a better life, but because of the accident Mr. Avetian is seriously ill, forever changing his life and that of his wife. Before that, there was the case of 16 year old Warren Kenny from Cherry Orchard, who was involved in a fatal accident on Christmas Day in 2016, and the almost identical case of 19 year old Leroy Coyle, who was involved in a fatal accident on Christmas Day in 2013. The list of stories goes on and on.

The common problem behind these preventable accidents is that some owners of quad bikes and scrambler motorcycles believe they can get away with using their vehicle wherever and whenever they choose. While the Road Traffic Act 1961 restricts the usage of these off-road vehicles to public places, it has always been interpreted to mean only public roads. However, as the public knows, a percentage of owners unlawfully use their off-road vehicle in public spaces such as parks, green spaces, housing estates and other public and private properties. When they do, they endanger pedestrians with the erratic and rash driving of their vehicles. There have been reports on such vehicles unlawfully being used in anti-social behaviour in Ward River Valley Park in Swords in my constituency and areas in Fingal such as Balbriggan beach, Donabate and Portmarnock, to name just a few. In Ward River Valley Park in Swords scrambler users have been known to follow a so-called "circuit" which involves them exiting the park on the path to make a loop in an adjoining estate and then turning sharply back into the park. It is the most dangerous grand prix I can imagine and only a matter of time before tragedy strikes at this location.

The problem is that people do not feel safe in shared public spaces such as parks, green spaces and housing estates. The Bill effectively includes all of these areas within the jurisdiction of the Garda to deal effectively with those who unlawfully use quad bikes and scrambler motorcycles. I appreciate that the Bill does not criminalise all owners and drivers of quad bikes and scrambler motorcycles. We all acknowledge that those who misuse or unlawfully use these off-road vehicles do not represent all owners and drivers. That is why the amendment Bill does not add penalties. Instead, it seeks to extend the Garda’s power to the areas that were not covered in the previous legislation such that it can now seize the bikes and scramblers used unlawfully in areas that will be covered under the Bill. The Bill, rightly, does not ban the vehicles completely because it is acknowledged that there are many owners who drive them responsibly and safely in designated areas such as motor parks and designated off-road areas. Instead it makes sure those individuals who use them to engage in anti-social behaviour such as carelessly driving through parks or green spaces, speeding through housing estates, doing wheelies and revving their engines to irritate the inhabitants of the neighbourhood or terrorise innocent people for fun will not get away with their behaviour. If individuals cannot drive responsibly, it not only puts others in danger but also themselves. There have been a number of accidents, some fatal, caused by two individuals on scrambler motorcycles colliding or driving into a parked car. Thus, by restricting where these vehicles can lawfully be driven, we can hold drivers accountable to ensure they engage in safe driving practices, not just for the safety of the public but also for their own safety. The sad fact is that many vehicle owners who engage in anti-social behaviour are young and inexperienced drivers who are seeking the thrill of driving recklessly and who think they can beat the odds and will not be involved in an accident. Thus, we must go above and beyond to make sure that while they may not see the imminent danger in which they are putting others and themselves, we will plan in advance to protect them from themselves.

It is important that this issue be dealt with nationally through the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and the Department of Justice and Equality. It is essential that the Government address the issue. Some local councils have brought forward by-laws to try to curb the havoc created by some of these vehicles, but the Garda has little to no authority to enforce them, especially in many of the areas that have not been but will now be covered in the amending legislation. With Christmas approaching, we know about the sad inevitability of parents buying these off-road vehicles for their children who are often much too young. While the Garda and some city councils have led awareness campaigns on the responsible usage of these vehicles and their purchase for children, they have not affected the number of children, many under the legal age of 16 years, who take their new vehicles onto streets and roads and into parks at Christmas time. One only has to look at the heartbreaking cases to which I have referred. Christmas Day is a day for families, opening presents and eating a meal together, not sitting in a hospital worrying about the state of one’s child, mother, father or friend who was involved in a quad bike or scrambler motorcycle accident.

The Bill is more important than ever and very welcome. Let us make sure we do everything we can to make sure Christmas Day will go by without an accident occurring involving the use of these bikes. The Labour Party supports the Bill.

The Bill is probably well meant, but the reality is that we need to start in ensuring the safety of quad bikes and scramblers by getting the manufacturers to place safety roll bars on them. The statistics for the numbers of injuries and deaths show that, unfortunately, a lot of the incidents involving these vehicles occur in farmers' fields when they turn over. Those involved who may have been driving them for a long time may lose a limb or be killed. Therefore, we need to make sure the manufacturers place safety roll bars on them.

In this country we think we can give the Garda every job in the world to do and that it will solve everything. In fairness, when numbers in the Garda traffic corps have been brought down from 1,100 to 570, they cannot be everywhere. If a garda finds someone using one of these vehicles on the road, in a lot of cases the quad bike has not been licensed for road use. That is the first point. The Garda can take the necessary steps to deal with that issue. I am open to correction, but my understanding of the Bill is that we are moving more to include use in parks. We need to be careful when legislating to avoid including private property. I understand fully, however, that we need to tighten the legislation where these vehicles are used up and down roads. In fairness, they are used down the country for the right purposes such as bringing cows from one place to another. The vehicles have indicator and other lights on them and are roadworthy. We need to concentrate first on the safety measures required to save lives. I would be wary in going down the road of enforcing laws in parks and other such places.

I call Deputy Gino Kenny, who is sharing time with Deputy Bríd Smith.

People Before Profit supports the Bill and I commend Deputy Ellis on his work on the issue. It is unfortunate the Government is not supporting it because it is a good amendment.

The majority of motocross participants are very responsible. There is a minority who are irresponsible and that is played out in housing estates where I live where young people mainly are using them recklessly without helmets, going though parks and estates. That has led to deaths and serious injuries not only for those taking part but for also members of the public and other car users. Obviously it is a nuisance to the public.

Some young people are looking for the adrenaline rush of being chased by the Garda and going 70 km/h or 80 km/h along a road. How can we turn that into a more positive thing? I make some comparisons. We had, and still have, in many housing estates the problem of roaming horses. There was legislative change in 1996, accompanied by a task force approach to trying to educate people about horses and so forth. As a result of Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine regulation it has largely worked. Regulation alone will not work. I welcome the task force approach to the issue. At local meetings attended by Deputy Bríd Smith, me and others, this issue constantly comes up.

I wish to consider practical solutions and not just regulations. There are many motocross tracks in Dublin and other parts of the country, more than most people might think. Fingal County Council gave Mulhuddart Motocross Club 15 acres of land. Club members say that there had been a problem with people using vehicles recklessly. However, since the advent of the motocross club, incidents have reduced by 60% to 70%. It is not a panacea by any means, but certainly it is an issue that I hope the task force will take on board. If people have a controlled safe environment to use these motocross bikes, not only are they using them professionally, they find out how they work mechanically which helps with health and safety.

There is another track in East Wall and a very good one in County Offaly. I know some of the members there. Most people who use these vehicles use them extremely responsibly and professionally. It is a sport after all. One of the oldest institutions in Ireland is the Motor Cycle Union of Ireland, which is 112 years old. It has been advocating on behalf of motorcycling throughout Ireland.

I make a point about parents buying vehicles for their children. I have come across parents buying small mopeds for children as young as seven or eight. I do not know what the parents are thinking because this is a lethal vehicle that can go up to 70 km/h or 80 km/h. Any human being who comes off at that speed, regardless of whether they are wearing a helmet, will sustain serious injury. There are many nuances to this. I know some people who are irresponsible with motor vehicles like this. It is possible to bring them in and say that this is irresponsible and that they are going to kill themselves or kill somebody else. If they want to use that approach, it should be accompanied by having a track or an environment where it is safe for them. That will go some way towards addressing the bigger issue.

In 2015 or early 2016, Deputy Gino Kenny and I organised a public gathering between Clondalkin and Ballyfermot because this was such a hot topic. Tragically, it was after the death of the 16 year old Warren Kenny on Christmas Day. It prompted us to push forward working with the youth groups to see what we could do to garner the energy around this as a sport. We looked for land from South Dublin County Council and Dublin City Council to develop a motocross track. We visited the tracks in East Wall and Mulhuddart to see how it all worked. I am sorry to say that that project does not seem to have moved forward. I think much of it relates to holding on to the land for the housing crisis and yet not even dealing with the housing crisis.

Nevertheless, as has been said, there is a need to address the issue of motocross quad bike use as something that is part of a culture and part of what young people do instead of always looking to punish and box them off to stop them doing it. Deputy Ellis of Sinn Féin has made a very sensible proposal that we fully support, which is to have some regulation and legislation on the use and sale of these bikes. If the Bill reaches Committee Stage, we should look at how we can regulate the sale and the authorisation of who can buy and own these bikes and what responsibility attaches to them. As everyone knows, when a car or a motorbike is bought, it has to have a logbook. Therefore, there is traceability of ownership and who has responsibility for it. There are many measures we could look at in terms of regulation attached to the Bill. It would be shameful for the Minister and his colleagues on the Government benches to try to block the passage of the Bill.

There have been at least two deaths of young men and the destruction of a young couple's lives in Darndale very recently. If that happened in the Minister's constituency, I am sure he would address it very rapidly. I am not implying that he is a snob in any way, but I am saying this is an issue that seems to affect working-class areas more than others. It must be addressed and it would be shameful for the Government to try to block the Bill. It should be passed and proceed to Committee Stage.

We should look seriously at what we can do in terms of regulation and also in terms of pursuing the need to develop motocross as a sport. Not only do young people learn a discipline around it, they also learn about mechanics and take an interest in the competitive sport in which they are involved, and it deals with the neglect of working-class areas that is wholesale in the places where we live.

We should not penalise people who use them. We should look to absorb it into the culture. We are talking about how we change the culture of the Garda following last week's report. We should also look at how we change the culture in our communities to make it better, healthier and more inclusive of everybody.

I call Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, who is sharing time with Deputy Broughan.

I have been listening to the debate both in the office and since I came into the Chamber. The concerns on the part of everybody and the desire to address them are obvious. The Bill before the House is one way of addressing it and I hope we can reach some consensus or there can be some collaboration to address people's genuine concerns.

I acknowledge those who have quads and scramblers and use them in a very positive way, including those who have quads and scramblers because they are functional vehicles for their work on farms, on beach patrols by lifeguards or for other activities by rangers. The problems arise when they are used in a particular urban setting. Unfortunately, much of that is associated with an anti-social element. These are off-road vehicles and they present problems in highly populated urban spaces, particularly in our open parks.

People have mentioned fatalities and Dublin Central has also seen fatalities, including a few years ago on Christmas Day. Christmas Day presents a particular problem because the roads and parks are generally much emptier, which presents an opportunity for those with scramblers and quad bikes to drive at very high speeds. In the majority of cases, unfortunately, the users have no safety helmets and no documentation. Of course, there is a bravado element to this. It is part of the ego trip or whatever and they spur each other to go even faster.

I also make the point that gardaí have powers to stop and to confiscate. However, gardaí have been forthright at different community policing forum meetings I have attended that they are very cautious because they are aware of the dangers of giving chase. Sometimes giving chase only fuels the activity because some young people want to be chased by gardaí and, therefore, the gardaí are afraid there could be a very serious accident. Gardaí must have public safety at the core of their work. They have come in for a lot of criticism because they are not going after these young people but I can understand where they are coming from, given the thrill the bike riders get from being chased by gardaí.

With regard to awareness of the dangers, a public awareness campaign is something the RSA or some other body could take on. We have had public awareness campaigns on drink-driving, seat belts and mobile phones, and I believe something similar would be useful in this regard. Like Deputy Gino Kenny, I cannot understand how parents would buy these items for small children. I also cannot understand how the sellers of these machines can get away with selling them without having much better safety precautions and ensuring a safety helmet is bought with them.

With regard to motocross, there was a very successful project on the Alfie Byrne Road run by Dublin City Council with the local motocross club, whereby people could go to a designated area with their scramblers and bikes. This is something that should be pursued. Let us face it: these bikes, quads and scramblers will continue to be bought, unfortunately, so we need awareness and regulation, particularly for public parks. I was at a community policing forum meeting last week and it was very sad to listen to old people telling us they were afraid to go into the public park because these quads and scramblers would be there and they were afraid of being knocked down.

We have to tackle the issue, whether it is through Deputy Ellis's Bill or otherwise. The important point is that it is tackled. I am sure it does not matter to Deputy Ellis how it is tackled but it has to be through a collaborative effort so something real happens.

As we are on this subject, I make a plea to the Minister in regard to the legislation on rickshaws. This has been going on for far too long, with one authority blaming the other and saying the other has control.

I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I commend Deputies Dessie Ellis and Imelda Munster on bringing the Bill forward and I will, of course, support it. Figures recently released to me by the HSE showed that, on average, at least one person per week is injured by an “all-terrain or other motor vehicle designed primarily for off-road use”. In fact, the Minister for Health told me there were 56 such injuries in 2015, 71 in 2016 and 62 in 2017. Of course, earlier this year, in my constituency of Dublin Bay North, we had the tragic case of the couple, former teacher Anzhela Kotsinian and her roofer husband Ilabek Avetian, whose lives were changed dramatically after a scrambler landed on them in a local park and left Mr. Avetian with devastating injuries. Over many years, constituents have had their peace disturbed or have been placed in acute danger by the use of scramblers in high-amenity areas across the north of Dublin Bay North such as Streamville Park, Darndale Park and Riverside Green.

I have asked the Ministers for Justice and Equality and Transport, Tourism and Sport many parliamentary questions about the regulation of scramblers and quad bikes and, like other Deputies, I have spoken directly with Dublin city and Fingal officials. The replies given to me maintain there are already sufficient powers bestowed upon the Garda to enforce “severe penalties under the road traffic laws (including fixed charge notices, penalty points, fines and possible seizure of the vehicle)”. In fact, a parliamentary question reply I received in 2017 stated: “An Garda Síochána can also use section 20 of the Road Traffic Act 1961 to perform an examination of roadworthiness of any vehicle being used in a public place”, which obviously should include parks and amenity open spaces. I was also informed that local authorities can introduce necessary by-laws.

We know from many concerned constituents that when they phone the Garda about this dangerous driving, they are often told no cars are available. This is despite the fact there may be the whining noise of scramblers beside a house for hours on end, and there may be people who are not well in the house or children who have gone to bed, and so on. Mr. Justice Charleton, in his report last week, stated: “It is extraordinarily rare that gardaí are seen in uniform on the streets,” especially compared with “other major cities, such as Rome and London and Athens, where police are visible at intersections, at junctions and in public plazas.”

The Minister has told me a working group is examining a cross-agency approach to tackle the growing illegal and dangerous use of quads and scramblers. I believe this task force is also looking at possible designated safe areas and that the group met just last month. We look forward to seeing a result from that. As Deputies Ellis and Munster know, however, we often get answers from Government Departments telling us there is no lacuna in legislation, although we then see the real lack of enforcement, which seems to be based on gaps in legislation. Indeed, I referred an issue to the Minister for Justice and Equality earlier today in regard to the road traffic Bill.

This is a short but significant Bill to amend section 41 of the Road Traffic Act to allow gardaí to seize scramblers and quad bikes in instances where they are being used unlawfully. We need to address this once and for all and I believe the new subsection (6) will be very valuable in this regard. As with the supply of old cars and a range of illegal substances, I believe An Garda Síochána should target those who supply quad bikes and scramblers to children, including manufacturers, importers, retailers and everybody down the business line. The whole area of regulation, registration, licensing, tax and driver training is very unclear or non-existent in regard to these vehicles, despite the fact such vehicles can be a shocking nuisance and, in the case of Ilabek Avetian, can leave a man seriously injured for the rest of his life. In addition, as my colleague said, as we come towards the Christmas season, we need to be aware some youngsters will receive quads and scramblers as presents.

I warmly commend Deputies Ellis and Munster. The Bill is an important step towards getting to grips with this issue and I thank them for bringing it forward.

I too am pleased to speak on this Bill brought forward by Sinn Féin regarding quads and scramblers. It is a very delicate issue. I note the Minister fled when I got to my feet. I must have him terrified. It is a practice he has. When I have a question or when I am in any debate, he just ups and runs. By God, we used to be the best of friends. There is the old saying: when friends fall out, it is a nasty business.

He scrambled out of here.

We will have to get a scrambler for him so he can scramble up the stairs.

The Bill is a serious and honest statement by Sinn Féin to deal with this issue. It can be horrendous, given the interference, the dangers and the damage that is done to wildlife, mountainsides and flora and fauna on the tracks. While I do not want to be seen as a killjoy, I have to declare I used to own a quad and my son now has it on the farm. We certainly need to regulate these vehicles and to examine this issue seriously. We also need to restrict the speed they do. The scramblers are very fast and the quads are hard to drive because they do not go around a bend the same as a motorbike. They are four-wheel vehicles and if they are four-wheel drive, they pull at the front. They are dangerous and scary.

There must be licensing of such vehicles. I agree with Deputy Fitzmaurice in regard to roll bars. There should certainly be roll bars, as well as speed restrictions. The Minister could use one if he had it here because they would go up the side of a wall - that is how dangerous they are. If they lose grip and flip over, however, a person can be killed. There have been several fatalities, including one in my county involving a young boy of 14. His dad came home from work at 11 o'clock at night and went looking for him. He was trapped under the quad and, unfortunately, he had been killed. These are serious vehicles.

The problem is probably more acute in cities and urban areas, where scramblers are being used around parks and streets, which is treacherous as a child could run out in front of them. Those using them are thrill seekers. Although the traffic corps has been decimated, gardaí have the power under section 40 of the Road Traffic Act to seize these vehicles. They should not be driving around in their patrol vehicles trying to apprehend them but, instead, they should be trying to find out who owns them and where they are parked, so they can seize them if there is evidence they were out on the road and being used illegally. It is very important we have that backup.

It is also important that more onus is put on the people who sell these vehicles. Anyone who goes to a ploughing match or to a show of any size will know salespeople are there selling them. As I said, quads are used for many different farming tasks, such as lambing, tending sheep and spraying, and I saw a person recently who had a little grass cutter attached to the back of one, so they can be adapted. However, we need to have documentary evidence of when they are sold so we can clamp down on their use. We need to know who is the registered owner.

As with the one I have, they should be registered and some form of tax or rather a tracing mechanism should apply as with an untaxed or uninsured vehicle. Where minors use them, they are definitely not insured because minors could not get insurance. It is a huge issue.

The urban issue is very troublesome. These vehicles cause a nuisance and generate noise. TidyTowns are trying to work in areas where people get into a them-and-us way of thinking and start to skid around, tearing up grass, flowers and plants. There needs to be some law to address that. We should think of those who are sick and are faced with that noise and annoyance. We should think of those working night duty, including nurses, doctors and paramedics who are trying to sleep while this is going on in their estates. It is an area which needs a great deal of examination. As such, the Minister, Deputy Ross, would do well to listen to all speakers, including me, rather than to have disappeared like the snow on a ditch when a bit of sun comes out. The sun is shining today. The Minister needs to grow up and understand all aspects of the Road Traffic (Quads and Scramblers) Bill. He must be prepared to listen to all Deputies.

I give way to Deputy Michael Healy-Rae and note that I support any measured attempt to restrain the misuse of these vehicles. That said, we must think of the upland farmers who need them. They need to be responsible in their use and schools must get involved in educating young people about their dangers.

I am sure the Minister will read avidly the transcript of Deputy McGrath's contribution.

He is probably watching on the screen.

I apologise for not being here earlier but I was chairing a meeting. I have a couple of important points to make on the Bill. When it comes to regulation, we must be careful to ensure we avoid harming people who need these vehicles. I know first-hand of the important role quads play in many facets of life, including in farming communities and among contractors. One even sees their use now in road traffic management where roadworks are being carried out. They are a convenient vehicle for convoying during roadworks and escorting traffic in a managed way. They are very important vehicles on and off our roads. There are many farmers who would be more upset if one took their quad than if one took anything else. Quads save their legs whether it is to repair fences or go out on the land when sheep are grazing. There are many attachments one can use, including a box to bring a sick or pet lamb home. We have to be very careful about regulation in those circumstances. What worries me sometimes is that people can bring in regulations without knowing what they are talking about. When people think of quads or vehicles like that, they may think of what they have seen where people have used them on beaches for enjoyment purposes. I am talking, however, about purely practical uses like spraying rushes or topping on ground which cannot be covered by any other vehicle as well as for different contracting purposes. In everything we do in the House, we must understand what we are doing.

Unfortunately, in the years since quads came on the scene, a number of my friends have been seriously injured on them. By their nature, quads do not have cabs or roll bars as they would not be as functional with those. The fact that they do not have roll bars or a legal requirement for them means injuries have occurred which would not otherwise have been caused. Things like that must be looked at also. We must ensure that vehicles are not only practical but safe for users. I will never forget the story Deputy Mattie McGrath told me about a very sad and horrific event involving a quad. We must be careful about what we discuss in the House.

I welcome the Bill and pledge the support of the Social Democrats for it. I commend Deputies Ellis and Munster for taking the initiative to bring it forward. This is the second time Deputy Ellis has tabled a Bill on this matter. Many Members, including Deputy Ellis and me, have raised this issue consistently over many years. Unfortunately, our pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Consistently, Ministers in this and the previous Government have completely ignored this emerging issue. Because it has been ignored for so many years, it can now be described as an epidemic facing many urban communities, in particular in cities. The use of scramblers, quads and motorcycles is the single issue most often raised with me and constituency colleagues at community meetings. Whether the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, believes that, I do not know, but the Government's actions to date indicate that it does not recognise it as a serious problem. Any urban Deputy who is in any way active in his or her constituency will tell one that this is the biggest issue being raised in urban communities. It is an absolute scourge, in particular in working-class areas.

The issue is not the legal use of these vehicles. Some of our rural Deputies raised concerns about their farmer colleagues, but this is not about people using quads, scramblers or motorbikes legally. It is about people using them illegally. Principally, we are talking about people who are over 16 and using them illegally and the even bigger problem of minors using them. These vehicles are the new urban horse as others have said. They have taken such a grip in local communities that it is now commonplace for young people to get them as Christmas, birthday, confirmation or even communion presents. It is standard now in local communities for this to be a huge public safety issue for the young people themselves who ride the vehicles but also for people using our streets and parks. It is an issue for other children who have a legitimate right to go out on their own estates or local parks and greens to play safely. Unfortunately, that is not possible in many housing estates at this stage due to this problem. As to involving young people in sport, we receive regular complaints of pitches being churned up overnight or in recent days by youths on scramblers and quads. They fly around pitches doing wheelies and damaging pitches, which prevents other children from playing sport in their local areas.

These vehicles are having a huge impact. They are also very frightening for older people. Indeed, they are frightening for people of any age. There is a real fear now that when one is out walking in one's local estate or park, one is putting oneself in danger of being hit by one of these vehicles. That is one of the things the Bill seeks to address. For a number of years, gardaí have told public representatives at public meetings that it is not possible for them to take any action in respect of this activity if it is based on local greens, public parks or fields because road traffic legislation does not apply to those areas. Gardaí say their hands are tied for this reason. That is the principal way in which the Bill proposes to deal with one aspect of this problem. Action to deal with this is overdue but there has been no response from the Government whatsoever. There have been literally hundreds of parliamentary questions, Topical Issue matters have been raised and there have been various debates in the House over the years.

There has been no response whatsoever from Government to date as to how to address the specific problem of this high level of activity going on in our parks and public open spaces and the law enforcement authorities being powerless to deal with it. I do not know whether it is the Minister of State who will respond or what will happen with this Bill, but the Government must reply to us and say how it will deal with this very real problem. It has been identified by gardaí over many years. They are precluded from taking any action in these circumstances, yet there is no response from Government as to how they can be dealt with.

My principal concern is underage people using these bikes. It is commonplace to see youngsters as young as seven or eight going around on these bikes, sometimes two or even three of them on the one small quad bike or scrambler, flying around local estates. Nothing is being done about this because the advice to gardaí, understandably, is not to give chase or to pursue young people engaged in this activity because of the potential dangers involved, but that is not good enough. Gardaí are being advised not to pursue them, but what are we going to do about this?

About this time last year, I raised this with the Minister responsible at that point, Deputy Flanagan, and asked him to arrange a public awareness campaign in the lead-up to Christmas because it has now become standard practice, because of the failure of the authorities and the Government to act in this area, that these vehicles are given to children as presents. There is a need for a public awareness campaign telling parents that they and their children will be breaking the law if they go out on these presents. The response I got at the time was that the Garda press office issued a press statement. Let us get real about this. It is a really serious problem that needs to be dealt with. There is a need for an awareness campaign and for it to be made very clear to parents that they are breaking the law if they allow their children to do this. Equally, the law on the sale and supply of these vehicles needs to be strengthened. The Garda's hand needs to be strengthened in terms of powers to seize and dispose of these vehicles in certain circumstances.

Very many actions could be taken but, unfortunately, none has been taken to date. The multi-agency task force was set up last April after much pressure on the Minister. It has met twice and nothing has come out of it yet. There is no sense of urgency whatsoever on the part of the Government, on the part of either the Minister for Justice and Equality or the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. They should both be taking ownership of this. It is only a matter of time before there are more serious accidents and other people die as a result of this. Will the Minister of State wake up? This is a huge public safety issue and a huge issue of disregard for the law and growth in anti-social activity. What we need now is action from the Government.

In my constituency scramblers are an enormous issue. I could today take the Minister of State to one large park which is surrounded by a number of private and council estates, a very vibrant community with very active sports clubs, boxing clubs and community sector, but in which the lives of perhaps 1,000 households are daily negatively affected by the unrestricted use of quads and scramblers. We have a task force we set up on the council, with council officials, gardaí and the local community doing everything they can within the existing legislative framework, but the problem is not getting any better. The council is spending tens of thousands of euro on CCTV and the gardaí are putting in whatever additional resources they can, but what they are all telling us - gardaí, council officials, communities and residents - is that the legislative framework does not work. The specific proposal contained in this Bill is absolutely vital to empower them to do their job.

All I will say to the Minister of State is if he is not convinced by the merits of our arguments, he should come and spend a day with me in Clondalkin. If he spends five hours with me talking to residents of St. Cuthbert's Park, he will see very clearly the need for this legislation and the other actions people are mentioning. If Fine Gael votes against this, as I hear Fianna Fáil will, it will be letting down these residents. If the Minister of State comes and spends a day with us, I think it will change his mind very quickly.

I commend my colleagues for bringing forward this legislation. I say specifically to those Deputies from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael who are opposing it that they will have to face their own councillors because it is their own councillors, along with councillors from Sinn Féin and other parties, who repeatedly bring these issues up at council meetings and community meetings. What they are told time and again is that the legislative framework to deal with this issue is not there. The gardaí are hampered in how they can do their job. Most people who use quads and scramblers do so entirely without incident and appropriately, but there are those who use them in an anti-social way. Just as my colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, said, I could bring the Minister of State to Swords or Balbriggan and introduce him to people whose lives are scourged by out-of-control use of these vehicles and youths doing wheelies in playgrounds. There are kids who cannot cross the road to go to the local playgrounds because they are afraid. We know that the HSE has presented evidence on injuries so we know this is a serious health and safety issue. What we do not know is why there is no willingness between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil to address this problem.

My colleague, Councillor Malachy Quinn, has raised this at meetings of the joint policing committee of Fingal County Council. The issue needs to be dealt with because the consequences of not doing so are catastrophic in some cases and, in others, can be fatal. We cannot afford to be complacent about the issue; we need to take action. I think Fine Gael's councillors want action taken - we know that the gardaí do - and I can tell the Minister of State on behalf of the people whom I represent and who are scourged by this that they want to see action taken.

I listened to the Minister's speech. He said he absolutely agrees with the intention of the Bill and the objective of tackling the misuse of scramblers and quads in parks and other recreational areas. He talked about the difficulties in this regard. He said, "it is critically important that we all redouble our efforts [to tackle the misuse of these vehicles], including an examination of powers available to An Garda Síochána" and so on. Before he left, he said we have his support. The difficulty we have is to translate this support into action. That is collectively what we on this side of the House, and probably some of the Government's own Deputies, are all saying.

Deputy Ellis and I raised this matter in the House in 2014. We put forward a Bill. Tom Hayes was a Minister of State at the time. He said after the debate that he was not really aware of the difficulties. I talked to him about parts of his own constituency. Were the Minister, Deputy Ross, here, I probably could have outlined to him some of the areas in his constituency where this is a problem. It is a huge problem - collectively, I think we know that - and it is not going away. In 2014 we were told sufficient legislation was in place to deal with this difficulty. The Minister, Deputy Ross, said that "earlier this year, the Department of Justice and Equality convened meetings with key Departments and agencies on the misuse of scramblers" and that "a multi-agency task force was established, including representatives of An Garda Síochána, the local authorities and other bodies concerned". We were told the same in 2014 by the then Minister of State, Mr. Hayes. It is now 2018, four years later, but people are still facing this problem.

In the past two weeks, I have received representations from different areas, not all typical working-class areas. This is a problem in estates right across my constituency. In one area there are about eight quads and scrambler bikes. The majority of the people who use them are involved in drug dealing, so even if the bike is taken from them, they can replace it the following year if they are involved in that.

I have seen photographs taken with a camera in people's cars of quad bikes on two wheels on main roads in estates and scramblers on one wheel. Parks and green spaces should be inclusive spaces. The problem we face is that no elderly person, certainly nobody with a pram or in a wheelchair, would go into a park in these circumstances. No parent would allow his or her children to do so. Those who use these vehicles are frightening people off by intimidating and harassing them.

Other Deputies have referred to the problems people face in their homes. Many people cannot get out of them for mobility reasons. People were tortured for the entire summer, but it has not stopped now that the summer is over. The "vroom vroom" continues at this time of the year when it gets dark earlier and earlier. It is not as if it starts at 3 p.m. or 4 p.m. In some cases, it starts at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. and continues until midnight or 1 a.m. Regardless of what windows someone has in his or her house, he or she will hear this noise. It is a problem. What do people do? They ring An Garda Síochána and in some cases gardaí come out. In fairness, in some cases they take quad bikes off those who are using them or track those involved back to their houses. The Garda Press Office issued a photograph after the recent incident in Darndale to show that gardaí had taken some scramblers and quad bikes off the road. That is all very well, but this problem is still arising and actually multiplying. I recently spoke to a resident who was terrified of what would happen at Christmas because she knew that it would lead to more quad bikes being used.

I ask the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, to tell the House what he can do. As Opposition Deputies, we have tried to introduce legislation, but we have been told that it would make the law more vulnerable. The Garda Press Office told us four years ago that sufficient laws were in place, that further laws would interfere and take resources and that diversionary approaches would be taken in respect of those at risk of offending. We were told that all sorts of system were in place. We can agree collectively that there is a problem. Fianna Fáil has suggested we put this proposal which has been passed on First Stage on hold for two or three months. If we do, how long will we have to wait for concrete solutions to this problem? Are there answers in the script prepared for the Minister of State? Does the Minister, Deputy Shane Ross, have to come back in? For how long will the task force sit? I have referred to what we were told four years ago. The Minister referred to a more recent development. Perhaps it stopped when the Government fell or after the general election. I do not know, but we need solutions as people are crying out for help.

The issue is not confined to cities and towns. It is affecting people across Ireland. It does not have an impact in rural Ireland where it is seen as positive. Reference has been made to quad bike safety. We are conscious that the people who use quad bikes and scramblers are a danger to the general public, themselves and other road users. I have mentioned some of the specific dangers. It is time for solutions. If the Bill is voted down, when can we expect further legislation to come from the Department? People who are trapped in their homes are being driven mad by what is happening in fields and green spaces outside their houses. When will they receive positive messages from the Government? They want to hear about what it can do, rather than about what the Bill does not do.

I thank Deputies for their contributions to the debate. While I wholeheartedly agree that the scourge of adults and minors misusing scramblers and quad bikes in public parks must be dealt with, I do not think the solution to the problem involves broadening the definition of a "public place", as defined in the Road Traffic Acts, to include public parks. If we were to change the definition which is a cornerstone of all road traffic legislation, it could have incalculable consequences such as the mounting of legal challenges to prosecutions under the Road Traffic Acts, particularly in the area of intoxicated driving. If we were to extend the definition of a "public place" to allow An Garda Síochána to detain vehicles under section 41 of the Road Traffic Act 1994, it would have a contradictory effect on a number of other sections of the overall Road Traffic Acts, thereby increasing the danger of challenges to road traffic legislation being mounted and undermining the enforcement of that legislation and subsequent prosecutions under it.

The approach being taken by the task force established under the auspices of the Department of Justice and Equality is the correct one. The Department, An Garda Síochána and the local authorities are represented on the task force which is tackling the misuse of scramblers and quad bikes by a number of means, including enhanced enforcement measures, education, awareness-raising, relevant legislation and the potential use of designated facilities where such vehicles could be used in a safe environment. I welcome the news that local authority road safety officers are about to mount a campaign to urge parents not to purchase scramblers or quad bikes for their children for Christmas. The Road Safety Authority is always willing to engage with stakeholders to help to raise awareness and educate people on the issue of road safety, on which it will campaign in the run-up to Christmas. Although the misuse of scramblers and quad bikes in public parks must be tackled, it is not appropriate to use the Road Traffic Acts to do so. I look forward to the review of criminal justice and public order legislation and the departmental task force's review of educational and other measures. The reviews will determine what further measures may be necessary to assist in curbing anti-social activity involving the use of scramblers and quad bikes.

The debate will be brought to a conclusion by Deputies Denise Mitchell and Dessie Ellis.

I am very disappointed that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil intend to oppose the Bill, the aim of which is to tackle the absolute scourge that is the misuse of scramblers and quad bikes. I am sure constituents have raised this issue on the doorstep with Deputies of all parties. It is totally unfair that residents are being kept up until all hours of the night as these vehicles tear through their estates. It is totally unfair, when local football and GAA teams show up to play matches on a Saturday and Sunday morning, that they often find that their pitches have been torn up by scramblers. It is also totally unfair that parents are afraid to let their children play in local green spaces because of the dangers posed by scramblers. I have seen young teenagers drive down the wrong side of the road on one wheel. It is extremely dangerous and just not on. People in my local area of Darndale have been seriously injured when these vehicles have been used in local parks and green spaces. Some 62 people were injured by scramblers last year.

I have heard people say this legislation is unnecessary on the basis that the Garda already has the powers to deal with the issue. However, it does not have such powers in some cases because the use of these vehicles in local authority parks which are subject to local by-laws is a grey area. In some cases, the vehicles are being used on waste ground or in green spaces that are privately owned. I acknowledge that a number of scrambler and quad bike groups operate in a reasonable manner. I am talking, however, about the misuse of vehicles on roads and footpaths and in public spaces. We have heard conflicting reports from gardaí and Ministers on the powers of An Garda Síochána to combat the issue. A clear direction has to be issued on the matter. I understand it is incredibly difficult for the Garda to intervene or pursue people without making the situation even more dangerous. That being the case, the focus needs to be on seizing these vehicles. I drive a car.

I have tax, insurance and a licence. I wear a seat belt and drive in a safe manner. The people driving these bikes are not insured, taxed or wearing helmets, yet nothing seems to be done about them. To top it all off, they are a nuisance to neighbours in their estates.

Parents who buy such vehicles for children who are under 16 years of age are breaking the law. They need to have a bit of cop-on and realise that not only are they putting their own children at risk, they are also endangering the lives of others. I acknowledge the Minister of State's mention of a working group that is examining this matter, but when will we see effective enforcement? This situation is growing worse. I plead with the Government to get a grip on it.

I am disappointed that the Government and its partners in Fianna Fáil are opposing the Bill and preventing its progress to the next Stage. I, too, took legal advice from senior counsel on this issue who outlined the problem that we have identified. I have made it clear that Sinn Féin is open to amendments to the Bill that would address whatever concerns the Government or Attorney General may have. We are open to ideas. We are specifically referring to public spaces as defined under section 41 of the Road Traffic Act 1994, but if there are repercussions, let us move to the next Stage and do what is required to alleviate the problem.

It is possible that additional issues might need to be addressed and explored, and existing legislation might cover some of them, but following are the types of matters that need to be considered: proper insurance cover and licensing; powers of confiscation and storage of illegal bikes; training and specific courses for those using such vehicles; the requirement to wear helmets and visibility vests; roller bars, as outlined by some of our rural Deputies; a proper register of such vehicles; log books that will be passed from buyer to buyer; licence plates on all bikes and quads; sellers and those advertising the sale of quads and scramblers indicating clearly that it is illegal to sell such vehicles to anyone under 16 years of age; the possibility of a national car test, NCT; the destruction of such vehicles after confiscation, in respect of which we are told legislation may be required; and using tracking units as found in cars and so on, which most people know can be done.

Deputy Troy mentioned suspending the Bill. I remind him and his party that they had the opportunity to table an amendment. Alternatively, they could allow the Bill to proceed to Committee Stage where the issues with it could be examined. This is a cop-out by Fianna Fáil in support of the Government. That this is a Sinn Féin Bill is behind that decision.

We have raised this issue in the Dáil since 2014 when we introduced a similar Bill and received a similar answer, which Deputy Crowe has outlined. Councillor Paul McAuliffe was mentioned. Both he and Deputy Rock of the Minister of State's party indicated to me that they would support and were in favour of this Bill. They did that in front of safety forum and policing forum meetings, but now I find that the Bill will be opposed. I find that hypocritical. It is sad that such a serious issue is being kicked down the road on the grounds that a group of people will meet, given that we were told the same thing in 2014. All the Minister of State is doing now is kicking this down the road for another few years. We have seen the consequences of doing that, such as the recent tragedy in Darndale, and it is inevitable that there will be more.

This Bill is not about people who operate quads and scramblers lawfully, including on farms. This is about people who operate them illegally. No one in Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael appears to be saying that there is not a problem or that there is something wrong with what we are suggesting. Rather, those parties are saying that the Bill will have repercussions elsewhere. Let us tease out the repercussions on the next Stage. What would be wrong with doing that? That is what legislating is about. Our simple request is to be allowed to proceed to the next Stage so that we can highlight and work on the Bill's problems and identify where legislation is required. If there are other repercussions, let us identify and deal with them.

Question put.

The division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 18 October 2018 in accordance with Standing Order 70(2).