Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions

Driver Licences

Marc MacSharry

Question:

43. Deputy Marc MacSharry asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he has engaged with his Cabinet colleagues and UK counterparts to ensure that returning emigrants that hold UK licences will continue to be able to swap their licences for an Irish driver licence even in the event of a no-deal Brexit. [40154/19]

Has the Minister engaged with his Cabinet colleagues and UK counterparts to ensure that returning emigrants who hold UK driver licences will continue to be able to swap their licence for an Irish licence, even in the event of a no-deal Brexit? There are between 50,000 and 70,000 UK driver licence holders in Ireland, many of whom have yet to swap their licences. Furthermore, the figure does not account for the 400,000 Irish citizens living in the UK, some of whom, if not many, are making arrangements to return home.

I thank the Deputy for asking this topical question, which is a hot issue in the light of Brexit.

Motorists resident in Ireland with a UK, including Northern Ireland, driver licence are being advised to exchange that licence for an Irish driver licence before 31 October 2019. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the UK will no longer be a member state and, therefore, the UK driver licence will not be recognised. People resident in Ireland will no longer be able to drive on a UK driver licence. Contingency planning for a no-deal Brexit has been considered by Cabinet on many occasions since 2016 and the matter of UK driver licences was included in the issues under consideration. The Road Safety Authority, RSA, has run a number of media campaigns this year including a radio campaign, which commenced on 23 September 2019, to encourage those living in Ireland and holding UK driver licences to exchange them in good time before 31 October 2019. The RSA is also running an ongoing social media campaign.

At the start of this process, as the Deputy noted, it was estimated some 70,000 UK licences were held by people resident in Ireland. Some 34,000 of these have been exchanged to date. The RSA will increase its opening hours at the National Driver Licence Service, NDLS, centres, commencing on 7 October 2019, as will be advertised on ndls.ie. Additional resources are also in place at the application processing centre to cater for the expected increased demand. At present, the average waiting time for the exchange of a UK driver licence for an Irish driver licence is three days.

Once the UK leaves the EU, the exchange of driver licences will become a national competency rather than an EU competency. My officials have examined the technical issues that will arise in such a scenario and will seek to put in place alternative arrangements for the exchange of licences, including in the case of returning emigrants currently holding a UK licence. This cannot be completed, however, until after the UK has left the EU. Therefore, I urge any persons who are resident in Ireland and who hold a UK licence to exchange it for an Irish licence and to do so without further delay.

There seems to be a certain dilatoriness and a rather large gap has opened up, given that 70,000 people should take such action whereas more than 30,000 have yet to do so. I regard that as rather disturbing but I hope that in the next few weeks it will be remedied.

The real answer is we do not yet know how we will accommodate the people in question. As the Minister noted, 34,000 people have exchanged their licences while 36,000 remain to do so. Will the Department put in place additional resources at the driver licence centres to manage the additional demand when it arises? A nurse told me she planned to return in December to take up a new position, having completed her studies and a short working career in the UK. She is unsure what she will be in a position to do but all the Minister is in a position to say is the Government will consider those technical issues after the UK leaves. That is not sufficient for people such as that nurse. She might find herself in the ridiculous position where, having had a competent driving career heretofore, she has to engage in mandatory training on her return, obtain a learner permit and be accompanied while driving. There is a severe absence of common sense to that.

It is clear the introduction of a transitional period may be needed. Common sense demands that should there be a no-deal Brexit, transitional arrangements will have to be in place after 31 October to facilitate people for a period.

As I outlined, preparations are being made for the sort of scenario the Deputy described. It is anticipated that increased opening hours at the NDLS centres will commence next week and will be advertised on the NDLS website. Additional resources are in place at the application processing centre to cater for the expected increased demand, which the Deputy should recognise. At present, the wait is fairly slow but we expect a rush as the end of October approaches, and we will provide for that.

On the Deputy's question about non-residents, under the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic, drivers from contracting states carrying a valid driver licence can drive on one another's roads for up to a year. As Ireland and the UK are contracting states in the Geneva Convention, the position applies and will not change following the withdrawal date. This means that motorists who are not resident in Ireland but who drive in Ireland with a UK driver licence may not be affected by Brexit. It does not matter whether they are emigrants. What matters is where the licence is held and what licence the driver holds.

Will all classifications of UK driving licence be converted to Irish licences? After the fact, does the Minister intend to conclude a bilateral agreement with the UK? While we are speaking specifically today about UK licences in the context of Brexit, there is an overall absence of common sense in our approach to recognising the competency of drivers from elsewhere in the world. I give the example of someone returning from the USA after 30 years who had a licence in Ireland before he or she left. That person cannot get an Irish licence again without being forced to undergo mandatory training, a driving test and status as an accompanied driver simply because we do not have a particular agreement with the USA. We have them with South Korea and East Timor. Broadly speaking, the Department must instruct the driving licence authority to conclude bilateral agreements with these other nations which are not covered. There are a great many people in this position but while we say we want to welcome returning emigrants, we make it very difficult for them to obtain licences when they come home. That has implications for them getting insurance. More broadly, the Minister must be more proactive about acknowledging the competency of returning emigrants, not just those from the UK.

The Deputy can be certain that the RSA and the Department will respond to increased demand. If there is increased demand, as the Deputy anticipates, from returning emigrants, they will respond to that. In my opening reply, I said the average waiting time for the exchange of a UK driving licence for an Irish one is three days, which is a very short period. If there is a rush of emigrants returning from the UK and looking for licences, I have no doubt that the RSA will respond. It has already responded fully to the anticipation that 70,000 people would apply and, in fact, they did not all come. As such, the speed with which the RSA is delivering new licences is commendable.

As the Deputy knows, although I do not think it is the intention behind his question, I cannot involve myself in any bilateral negotiations with my British counterparts on this because the EU is carrying out those negotiations. If the UK departs from the EU on 31 October, which I hope it will not, there will then be an opportunity for us to make an agreement which will sort out the problem anticipated by the Deputy.

Public Transport

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

44. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if free public transport will be provided for children up to 18 years of age as soon as possible; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39941/19]

Yesterday, Sinn Féin launched its alternative budget, one of the key proposals of which is to make public transport free for all persons under 18 years old. It makes sense from a cost of living perspective, from an economic perspective, from a transport perspective and, in particular, from a climate perspective. Will the Minister follow the initiative we have taken, consider the proposal and implement it?

As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport. The National Transport Authority, or NTA, has statutory responsibility for the regulation of fares for public passenger transport services with the transport operators. The funding of public service obligation, or PSO, services comprises fares paid by passengers and subvention payments from the Exchequer. The main purpose of the subvention payment is to meet the gap between the income from fares and the cost of operating services. In 2019 alone, the Exchequer has allocated just over €300 million in subvention for PSO transport services and rural transport local link services. Along with that subvention, we are investing almost €480 million this year in public transport and active travel infrastructure.

The Deputy suggests abolishing fares for children up to the age of 18 years. One of the factors to take into account is that the full amount collected from fares is approximately €625 million annually, of which €27.3 million relates to fares for children aged five to 18 years, inclusive, and €49.6 million relates to student fares, some of whom would be expected to be 18 years or younger. I am advised by the Department of Education and Skills that receipts from school transport charges in 2018 amounted to some €15.9 million, or approximately 8% of the total cost of the scheme provided by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department. If free travel were provided, this would be the additional cost on the scheme. As such, the rough cost to taxpayers of the Deputy's proposal, including the school transport scheme, would be more than €43 million every year over and above the huge amounts already given to provide for the public transport PSO subvention and capital investment. The Deputy should realise that €43 million is only what it would cost the taxpayer to give a free fares windfall to existing passengers in the under-18 age bracket. It would not pay for one extra bus or one extra passenger journey as it does not factor in the costs of catering for increased passenger travel demand.

I can see that the Deputy is trying to find a way to move more people onto public transport. I applaud any idea of this sort coming forward although I would have a reluctance to accept some ideas on grounds of cost. This idea is neither new nor barmy. It is helpful and adds to the debate. I am sure the Deputy shares my ambition to move more people to public transport. I am working to have a public transport system that provides a sustainable, viable, attractive and economic mode of travel for more people for more of their journeys.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

We all know that our country is facing challenges on climate commitments and on the congestion that this Government is determined to address. That is why we are expanding our public transport fleet so that there are more buses, more trains and longer trams to carry more passengers. We are developing long-term solutions through Metro and the DART expansion. We are enhancing cycle networks and making cities easier to navigate for pedestrians. We are supporting higher frequency bus services in rural areas. We are investing in well-planned, integrated infrastructure and service improvements in all the main cities. That is why we are investing €8.6 billion in sustainable travel under the national development plan. We know our public transport system and active travel networks need to be better. We know they need to better support sustainable mobility by linking more people to more places for more of their journeys. We know it and we are doing it. We are promoting a shift to public transport. We are enabling a shift to cleaner, greener alternatives. Our ambitions are high and the costs are hefty but the House will agree that the costs of not doing it are not acceptable. We cannot let our society drive itself unthinkingly into more congestion, more pollution and more harmful emissions.

Enabling and promoting a shift to more sustainable forms of transport for a higher number of journeys will help reduce Ireland's climate change emissions. Part of this work is to encourage and develop sustainable transport habits among different groups within our population, including the young people. The NTA is conscious of this in exercising its statutory responsibility in relation to fares. Each year, the NTA conducts a thorough examination of public transport fares and publishes on its website the details of this work, including information regarding all fare changes it decides upon. The Deputy will know that the NTA sets the fares for children on PSO services at a level considerably lower than the standard passenger fares. The NTA also runs some targeted promotion initiatives from time to time to stimulate fresh interest in public transport use, including its Kids Go Free promotion offer in July delivered through the Leap card integrated ticket for public transport.

Fares from passengers are one element of meeting the costs of providing and running the public transport system while the State and the taxpayer are the main funders. Any proposal to reduce or abolish passenger fares for a cohort of customers would have to be funded through either an increase in fares for other passenger cohorts or by an increase in PSO funding from the taxpayer via the Exchequer.

Sinn Féin is perfectly aware that there are implications not only in the cost of the free fares but also by way of additional carriage on the system. We have provided for that in our budget by identifying €31 million for free fares and an additional €50 million for the PSO. That is an acknowledgement that one not only needs enhanced capacity for carriage, but that even aside from children, there is a need to expand the number of routes and the coverage provided by Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann, the Luas and so on. There has been a lot of discussion around this. It is important from a climate point of view and an economic one. One aspect of climate policy which the public grasps instinctively is that the number of journeys we take by car is unsustainable. Our proposal would not only make public transport more affordable for families, it would also be habit-forming. It would mean that by 18 years of age, people would be in the habit of taking public transport. In the long run, fares for those aged over 18 years should also be reduced. This proposal represents very good value for money. It would have a real impact on reducing the level of school traffic and traffic generally and foster good public transport habits.

I am not sure that it is good value for money. I spelled out for the Deputy the costs, which are absolutely formidable. It would be very difficult to raise that sort of money. What we are talking about here are substantial sums which it is not guaranteed would deliver on the objective at this stage. The Deputy and his colleagues are approaching the issue in a reformist way, which is helpful, but we must look more closely at proposals like this before we take them on board. The Deputy has seen the Kids Go Free campaign, which reflects some of his thinking and is an effort to get young people into the habit of taking public transport. The scheme was very successful over the summer months. To go to the lengths the Deputy proposes, however, would be very expensive indeed. Nevertheless, to develop new habits in young children to get them used to public transport is something I applaud.

We all know that our country is facing challenges on climate commitments and on the congestion that this Government is determined to address. That is why we are expanding our public transport fleet so that there are more buses, more trains and longer trams to carry more passengers. We are developing long-term solutions through Metro and the DART expansion. We are enhancing cycle networks and making cities easier to navigate for pedestrians. We are supporting higher frequency bus services in rural areas. We are investing in well-planned, integrated infrastructure and service improvements in all the main cities. That is why we are investing €8.6 billion in sustainable travel under the national development plan. We know our public transport system and active travel networks need to be better. We know they need to better support sustainable mobility by linking more people to more places for more of their journeys. We know it and we are doing it. We are promoting a shift to public transport. We are enabling a shift to cleaner, greener alternatives. We would accept any solution.

The Minister makes the point about formidable cost but there is also a very formidable cost in the large proportion of children travelling to school by car and ensuring the roads are maintained for that purpose. In in the long run there is also the potential cost of the fines Ireland may face for carbon emissions. I note the NTA, in its announcement of free travel for children under the age of five in 2017, stated: "The Authority recognises that the cost of travel with a young family can be expensive and today’s move marks another step towards making sustainable transport a more affordable option for more families." The Minister also referred to the Kids Go Free initiative. Sinn Féin's proposal is consistent with that logic. I agree with what the NTA said but we must ask what steps have been taken since then. How are we building on these initiatives and how will we increase the number of people who use public transport, including young people? This is not simply a question of doing something nice; this is strategic investment. In all of our major cities there is a chicken and egg scenario, whereby people will not take the bus until cars are moved off the road. People will not make the change until traffic is lighter and buses move quicker. This is an immediate initiative that can kick-start that process.

We are taking dramatic, radical and substantial measures to do exactly what the Deputy has asked, namely, to get people out of private cars and onto public transport. We also have plans for Cork. I will not list the various measures because I do not have time but the Deputy will be familiar with them, especially those that apply to young people. Our ambitions are high but the costs are hefty. I believe the House will agree that the costs of not doing this are unacceptable. We cannot let our society drive itself unthinkingly into more congestion, more pollution and more harmful emissions. Enabling and promoting a shift to more sustainable forms of transport for a higher number of journeys will help to reduce Ireland's climate change emissions. Part of this work involves what the Deputy outlined, namely, to encourage and develop sustainable transport habits among different population groups, particularly younger people. The NTA is conscious of this in exercising its statutory responsibility in the area of fares. Each year, the NTA conducts a thorough examination of public transport fares and publishes on its website the details of this work and information regarding all fare changes it decides upon. The Deputy will be aware that the NTA sets the fares for children on public service obligation, PSO, services at a level considerably lower than the standard passenger fares. As noted, the NTA also runs some targeted promotional initiatives from time to time to stimulate fresh interest in public transport, including its Kids Go Free promotion offer in July, which was delivered through the Leap card integrated ticket for public transport.

Tourism Funding

Marc MacSharry

Question:

45. Deputy Marc MacSharry asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he has allocated specific funding or resources to attracting tourists from the Chinese market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40155/19]

Has the Minister allocated specific resources to attracting tourists from the Chinese market? Perhaps he will enlighten us as to what he has done in that regard. The tourism action plan for the period from 2019 to 2021 does not once mention China or the Chinese market despite the fact that the Chinese are, by some considerable distance, the biggest spending tourists in the world. Chinese tourists make 130 million journeys and spend $277 billion per annum.

The Deputy is right that China is a very important market that deserves considerable attention. I hope he will be satisfied that the tourism agencies are well aware of this and are acting accordingly.

Under the Government's global Ireland strategy, we are committed to developing tourism from new and emerging tourism markets with potential for Ireland. This year, Tourism Ireland has commenced the implementation of a strategy for growth in these markets. In budget 2019, the Government provided almost €4 million in additional funding to Tourism Ireland for this purpose. China, as the largest source of outbound tourism in the world, is one of the main emerging markets we are targeting.

While the resources allocated to any particular market is an operational matter for Tourism Ireland and not for me, I am aware that the additional funding provided has allowed the agency to substantially increase its activity in the Chinese market this year. It has doubled its investment to €1 million and increased its on-the-ground marketing team to 12, including a presence in Hong Kong. It has also increased its publicity, digital and social media activity in the market and continues to interact with the travel trade in the market.

To make the most of the potential from a market such as China it is important that the industry in Ireland is sufficiently prepared to be able to offer visitors a quality experience that meets their requirements. To this end, Fáilte Ireland is working with Irish tourism businesses across the country to help them capitalise on this potential by training them in how to meet the specific needs of the Chinese visitor. Its Get China Ready programme was developed in partnership with Tourism Ireland and Tourism Northern Ireland and is jointly delivered with the support of the Centre for Competitiveness, which is the licensed provider of China Outbound Tourism Research Institute programmes in Ireland. With the support of Government, the work being done by the tourism agencies both in China and here in Ireland, together with the industry, leaves us well placed to attract increased tourism from China in the coming years.

Some of the points the Minister makes are certainly welcome. What is the language capability of Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland in the supports they are providing to the industry? Are specific initiatives being taken for the Irish Hotels Federation, the Restaurants Association of Ireland, accommodation providers and so on to upskill in Cantonese and Mandarin and to facilitate them in getting China ready, as the Minister described it? I suggest that €1 million is not a very large investment given the kind of market we are seeking to attract. A good example of a country with a similar population to Ireland is New Zealand. Although one could argue it is closer to the Chinese market, New Zealand has some 450,000 Chinese visitors a year. The best example is probably Iceland. While Ireland had between 70,000 and 75,000 Chinese visitors last year, Iceland, a country of just 340,000 people, welcomed 130,000 Chinese tourists in 2016 and those numbers have continued. Will the Minister consider asking Tourism Ireland to increase its commitment to the Chinese market given that Chinese tourists are the biggest spenders, Chinese people undertake the largest number of outbound journeys and China is the fastest growing tourism market? Will he do more and commit more to attracting Chinese people to Ireland and, at the same time, commit to getting our own industry China ready?

I am quite prepared to have a conversation with Tourism Ireland on the commitment to which the Deputy referred. I believe the number of Chinese tourists coming here per annum is nearly 100,000. While €1 million may seem a small amount, one must remember that China is a very long way away. It has an enormous population but I acknowledge that if we were to get a very small number of its overseas tourists, it would be a very large number for us. I will not interfere with Tourism Ireland's judgments on how much of its funding allocation from last year it should spend on the Chinese market. That is Tourism Ireland's job. I will, however, convey the Deputy's comments to Tourism Ireland and his view that the Chinese market may be underexplored at this stage. We have a staff of 12 in the tourism agencies in China who are obviously realising the potential that exists.

Tourism Ireland estimates that 100,000 Chinese tourists visited the island of Ireland in 2018. While visitor numbers from China to Ireland are small when compared with established tourism markets, it should be remembered that Chinese visitors spend more than the average tourist and typically stay longer than visitors from markets closer to home.

I ask the Minister to conclude. He can contribute again for one minute.

Some 55% of Chinese outbound tourists spend in excess of €2,260 per visit so they are valuable.

The Minister is depriving others of speaking time. Deputy MacSharry has one minute.

I will take less time to make it easier for the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

On the Fáilte Ireland side, I ask that we seek to increase the resources specifically allocated to getting our industry China ready, as the Minister described it. I agree with the Minister that many of our providers, specifically the average hotelier, feel somewhat challenged when welcoming Chinese visitors because they do not have the language or cultural understanding that might be required to give Chinese tourists an adequate experience. Tourism Ireland has invested €1 million in the Chinese market and the Minister has agreed to ask the agency to consider increasing that figure.

Could a specific unit within Fáilte Ireland be enabled and resourced to enhance properly the capability of a our service providers of accommodation, restaurants etc. so that they are confident in welcoming Chinese visitors?

I will convey what the Deputy says to Fáilte Ireland and will not express a view on it particularly. I will ask its views and whether it thinks this is worth doing as the Deputy suggests.

In response to any criticism that suggests we are not doing enough, there are direct flights, as the Deputy knows. Hainan Airlines operates a direct flight to Dublin from Beijing and Cathay Pacific operates direct flights from Hong Kong to Dublin. These flights are suspended for the winter but are expected to resume next year. There are also hopes of new flights from China coming on stream next year. While there are many indirect flights available from mainland China and Hong Kong into Ireland, maintaining direct flights and adding new routes is seen as very important to developing increased tourism from China into Ireland. That indicates the importance the Government attaches to this in that it has agreed there should be direct flights between here and China.

Disability Services Provision

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

46. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the measures he is planning to take to ensure equal access to public transport for disabled persons and those with mobility issues in view of the fact that the UNCRPD has been in effect since April 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39942/19]

Eleven years after the Government promised to sign the UNCRPD it was finally signed in April 2018. However, signing a convention and ensuring equal participation in society for people with disabilities are two different matters. In the area of transport, we are a long way short of the mark. There are massive problems with the regular and frequent breakdown of lifts at the DART stations, stranding people, and denying them access to DART services. There are major problems of accessibility to buses and lack of accessible taxis. The Government needs to do a hell of a lot more. I will go through some of the problems in more detail later but I want to know what the Minister is going to do to make equal access for people with disabilities to public transport a reality.

I thank the Deputy for asking that question, the more he asks it the more welcome it becomes because it is quite right that he continuously make us accountable for people with disabilities and report to him regularly.

As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport. Under the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008, the National Transport Authority, NTA, has statutory responsibility for promoting the development of an integrated, accessible public transport network.

Article 9 of the UNCRPD provides for equal access for people with disabilities to facilities and services, including transportation. Article 4.2 of the convention provides for the progressive realisation of accessibility rights which includes practical progress on public transport accessibility. This is the approach adopted in Ireland on public transport and is being progressed in the context of the National Disability Inclusion Strategy 2017-2021, my Department's sectoral plan under the Disability Act 2005 and other relevant Government strategies and plans.

Accessibility features, such as wheelchair access and audio and visual aids are built into all new public transport infrastructure and vehicles from the design stage. New systems, such as Luas, are fully accessible. The National Development Plan, NDP, 2018-2027 sets out the national vision and ambition for the delivery of key infrastructure over the lifetime of the plan, including for public transport infrastructure. Investment in public transport will be accelerated under the NDP to support the development of an integrated and sustainable national public transport system. A number of key new major public transport programmes are due to be delivered under the NDP over the period to 2027.

However, there are legacy issues in relation to older infrastructure and facilities, for example, our Victorian era railway stations. To address these infrastructural legacy issues, my Department funds the accessibility retrofit programme which is managed by the National Transport Authority, NTA. The four-year capital envelope for public transport announced in budget 2018 includes a multi-annual allocation of almost €28 million for the accessibility retrofit programme for the period 2018 to 2021. This funding is a trebling of the previous allocation for accessibility under the capital plan.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

This funding will facilitate the continued roll-out of the programmes to install accessible bus stops, upgrade train stations to make them accessible to wheelchair users and provide grant support for the introduction of more wheelchair accessible vehicles into the taxi fleet. There will also be a continued investment programme under the NDP to fund the retrofitting of older public transport facilities to enhance accessibility.

I can assure the Deputy  that my Department and its agencies are committed to meeting our obligations under the UNCRPD on the progressive realisation of public transport accessibility.

The Government has had 11 years to progressively realise equality and it is still a long way short. I will give the Minister a glimpse of the reality on the DART. On 22 August, lifts were out of order in nine stations; on 6 September, they were out of order in eight; on 9 September, online information stated lifts were out of order in two stations when in fact the number was six; and on 23 September online information stated no lifts were out of order when in fact eight were. Sean O'Kelly, a wheelchair user and disability activist, who is in the Visitors Gallery today said that in August he was due to meet somebody in Pearse Street station. He came from Glenageary. On his return he decided to go to Blackrock where he understood the lift was functioning. When he got there he found that it was not. He then had to go on to Salthill and back to Blackrock on the other side, and then had to go to Booterstown in order to get to Glenageary. In other words, what should have been a three-stop journey became a six-stop journey because of the problems with lifts at DART stations.

I deeply regret Sean's experience. His was a dilemma that has probably happened to other people. The Deputy is right there have been problems in the lifts and that highlights the daily difficulties for people with disabilities. I met Sean last Friday and am aware of the situations that occur. I met one of the Deputy's local election candidates at the same time.

A concern for people with disabilities occurs when facilities such as lifts at train stations are out of service for long periods. Irish Rail has assured the Department that it is committed to providing all its customers, including those who are mobility and sensory impaired, with the highest level of accessibility on its rail network. When lifts get damaged and are out of service some specialised parts may be required which can take some time to be delivered. Irish Rail endeavours to return all out-of-service lifts to operational service as quickly as possible. The company's provider of lift maintenance services gives priority to lifts for repair and attention.

It is just not good enough and in order to highlight this, Bernard Mulvany, who the Minister mentioned, and Sean O’Kelly and others, have had to organise multiple protests about this. It is not acceptable and we need it sorted urgently.

The four hours' notice to access trains in Dublin and the 24 hours needed in the country is not equality. Some private bus companies which do not get state aid do not have to be accessible. There is a lack of accessible taxis. One taxi driver told me that there is a new purpose-built, all electric taxi in London that is fully accessible. If we redirected some of the grants for accessible taxis to purchase those and dropped the vehicle registration tax, VRT, we could have lots of accessible taxis in Dublin in short order. A lot more needs to be done. There needs to be a real focus on this. The situations that Sean and others find themselves in are absolutely unacceptable. Equality means equality.

Equality is where we are absolutely determined to head. I do not have time to list the number of initiatives we have taken on this, including the trebling of funding, and the appointment to every transport board of somebody with experience of disabilities in order to raise the realisation at every single stage. We have done a great deal but it is not enough. The Deputy is right; it will never be enough until everything he suggested is achieved.

We are determined to do these things. We are doing what is called progressive realisation. We will have to report on it in Geneva in 2020. We are aiming to produce a really good report. Not only do I think that it will be achieved, I am of the view that we will be on the way. That is the mark of our determination and our resolve.

Irish Rail has put a new system into operation at the Howth Junction and Clongriffin stations which closes off the lift when it is called by customers. The call goes to a monitored CCTV room. This has reduced vandalism issues at both stations. Benefits include controlling access to the lifts with passengers who require the service most, remote fault and alarm status of lifts in service updated to Irish Rail's website, higher availability of lift services for customers with disabilities, and visual monitoring. A further 14 stations-----

I call Maureen Deputy O'Sullivan.

-----have been identified at a cost of €50,000 per station. Irish Rail is developing a proposal for the works-----

I call Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan. Before she comes in, I must be fair to everybody. I ask the Minister and Deputies not to take advantage as there are others waiting to ask questions. If the rules are to be changed and a minute is to be extended to two minutes that will have to be done in another forum.

Road Traffic Legislation

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

47. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the status of the outstanding issues relating to licences for the operation of horse-drawn carriages in Dublin. [39765/19]

This question relates to outstanding issues regarding licences for the operation of horse-drawn carriages in Dublin.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. I know that she is very much acquainted with the issues relating to it but, for the consideration of the House, I would like to provide some background information.

In February 2011, Dublin City Council, DCC, took over responsibility for the licensing of horse-drawn carriage operators and drivers from the Garda Carriage Office.  This was achieved through by-laws enacted under Part 19 of the Local Government Act 2001. The latter provides a general power to a local authority to make by-laws in relation to its own property or services or to regulate matters of local concern.  It is under this Act that local authorities can choose, using by-laws, to regulate horse-drawn carriages that operate for hire or reward within their functional areas.  These by-laws allow relevant local authorities to set their own rules and stipulations to govern such operations.

In 2018, DCC became aware that - specifically in the context of Dublin - this legal basis for making such by-laws could be uncertain.  Local authorities may not make by-laws for purposes provided for elsewhere in legislation and the Dublin Carriage Acts 1853 to 1855 had previously vested the power to regulate horse-drawn carriages in Dublin with the Dublin Metropolitan Police Commissioners, the predecessor of An Garda Síochána.

My Department examined this issue and, following legal advice, is now of the view that the Dublin Carriage Acts 1853 to 1855 remain in force and preclude DCC from enacting the relevant be-laws.

Having given this matter careful consideration, I formed the view that the operation of horse-drawn carriages for hire or reward is best regulated by local authorities.  I understand that DCC first became aware of the present legal issues during a routine review of the by-laws that considered, inter alia, whether there was need to strengthen measures to safeguard the welfare of horses used to draw carriages.

Animal Welfare issues are a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.  The Control of Horses Act 1996 allows local authorities to introduce by-laws designating certain areas as control areas for horses. DCC has designated its administrative boundaries as such a control area under its Control of Horses Bye-Laws 2014. These by-laws require horses to be licensed and set minimum standards for the keeping of horses within the control area.

Regulations for horse-drawn carriages for hire or reward should be aligned with any horse welfare obligations imposed by local authorities. Accordingly, I am of the view that horse-drawn carriages for hire and reward should be regulated by local authorities.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

As I mentioned earlier, legal advice provided to my Department suggests that a simple repeal of the Victorian legislation alone may not be sufficient to enable DCC to enact by-laws for horse-drawn carriages.  On foot of receipt of that advice, my Department is now working with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to identify how best to empower DCC to regulate this matter in Dublin, just as other local authorities elsewhere regulate it.

This shows what happens to an issue when responsibility for it falls between several different authorities. A terrible difficulty has arisen within that gap. Tourists and others take horse-drawn carriage rides in the mistaken assumption that the drivers are fully vetted and insured, that the carriages have been inspected and approved, that the horses are suitable to draw the carriages, that the drivers are skilled in the operation of the carriage and that regulations have been set down. That is an assumption not born out by reality of the legislation. I have met some very responsible operators. There was a very nice event held on Merrion Square, which happened to be in the rain, featuring carriages and their drivers. They are very concerned about operating in this vacuum. In the meantime, tourists assume that everything is all right. We hope that it will not take a serious accident to bring this matter to the fore. Can the various groups be brought together, perhaps under the Minister's leadership, to resolve this once and for all? The longer it goes on, the more abuses take place.

The Deputy is correct that there is a lacuna and a vacuum. It is difficult for me to defend because it has taken too long. I apologies to here for that. It is complicated because at least three Departments are involved. She is correct in her comments in that regard. Three Departments are involved in what is a relatively minor issue in the scheme of things; many have been solely involved in emergency legislation relating to Brexit, so that might be a tangential reason for the delay. That does not mean that there should not be an urgency in respect of the matter. There is an obligation on us to bring the Departments of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Transport, Tourism and Sport and, perhaps, Justice and Equality together and to involve the Office of the Attorney General and others, as well as the local authority, which would have to be included.

I received a briefing from my officials on this matter yesterday because I knew the question was coming up. I hope that I have instilled a sense of real urgency in them as I was somewhat distressed that this was taking so long. Perhaps it is not the fault of anyone in particular and comes down to the fact that so many parties are involved. However, I will try to inject a renewed sense of urgency in respect of the matter

Without meaning any disrespect, we were told this before. There is also the matter of the welfare of the horses being used to draw the carriages. Many, including myself, applauded the Minister on his action in relation to greyhound racing. That was very welcome. The lack of minimum requirements is having a detrimental affect on the welfare of some of the horses as there is no clear minimum standard. There is a need for this industry to be regulated and to have by-laws that are up to date and that serve the industry well. From what the Minister has told us, I hope it will receive the urgent attention it needs as it has been going on for far too long. Some of the Acts date back to the 19th century. The legislation must be brought up to date.

The Deputy has put her finger on it. I am not absolving myself of blame but the fact that so many Acts date back so far makes the matter much more complicated, obscure and also very time consuming, especially when there are several items of legislation involved.

Animal welfare is a matter for my colleague the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine. I am not passing the buck but I will make sure he knows of the content of this debate. The Control of Horses Act 1996 provides powers to local authorities to designate, using by-laws, control areas within which horses are required to be licensed and where minimum standards are set for keeping horses. In this regard, DCC has designated its administrative area as such a control area under the Control of Horses Bye-Laws 2014, the enforcement of which is a matter for the council. The council's responsibilities and experience in horse licensing and welfare matters is one reason why we have concluded that the council is the best place to regulate horse-drawn carriages for hire or reward in Dublin.

In the context of animal welfare more generally, the Control of Horses Act 1996 gives powers to members of An Garda Síochána to seize and detain horses and to require veterinary inspections. Under animal health legislation, the Garda also has powers of arrest in respect of incidents of animal cruelty.