I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:
“is concerned that:
— the misuse of scrambler motorcycles, quad-bikes and other vehicles is a matter of public concern and has led to serious safety risks and interference with the enjoyment of amenities for communities in some areas of the country; and
— regrettably, the misuse of these vehicles has resulted in death or serious injury in some cases;
— An Garda Síochána pursue appropriate policing strategies with due regard to the need to ensure that responses to the misuse of vehicles do not lead to increased and exacerbated public safety risks;
— An Garda Síochána pursue consistent law enforcement practices by responding appropriately to incidents and local circumstances;
— the existing legislation requires the safe use of vehicles as well as compliance with conditions for driver licensing, motor taxation and insurance, and the relevant legislative provisions have already been subject of close examination by Government departments and advice from the Attorney General;
— Gardaí already have significant enforcement powers in relation to dangerous misuse of vehicles and non-compliance with regulations on driver licensing, taxation and insurance, including seizure of vehicles where appropriate;
— the Government has provided extensive resources to An Garda Síochána to support law enforcement and effective policing;
— Gardaí successes in the seizure of vehicles underline the need to continue to support An Garda Síochána to respond to local situations and provide appropriate resources and technical support; and
— An Garda Síochána continues to provide a robust policing response to the trade in illegal drugs and to adopt intelligence-led approaches to counter the activities of criminal groups, notwithstanding the current pressures on the Garda service due to the restrictions resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic; and
— the Programme for Government ‘Our Shared Future’ commitment to enhance powers available to An Garda Síochána to limit the use of scrambler motorcycles and quad-bikes by those engaged in anti-social behaviour and enact legislation to add to those powers if needed;
— the recent publicity campaign by the Road Safety Authority (RSA) and An Garda Síochána to discourage the purchase of scrambler motorcycles and quad-bikes, particularly in the run up to Christmas;
— the ongoing engagement between Government departments and agencies to assess if there are any further means of strengthening legislation in this area, as well as enhancing enforcement measures, public awareness raising and community-based responses;
— the ongoing development of policing responses by An Garda Síochána;
— the ongoing engagement between An Garda Síochána, local authorities and communities, to support appropriate responses to local circumstances;
— the ongoing work of the RSA to raise awareness of the dangers of misuse of vehicles;
— the additional resources provided by Government in Budget 2021 for youth services;
— the imminent publication of a new Youth Justice Strategy which will provide a renewed framework to enhance responses to youth crime and anti-social behaviour;
— the work of the forum on anti-social behaviour, which was recently convened by the Minister of State for Law Reform, in line with a commitment in the Programme for Government ‘Our Shared Future’; and
— the recent announcement to pilot local community safety partnerships which recognise the need for a collaborative approach between communities, local authorities and services, including policing and youth services, to effectively target issues affecting communities, such as anti-social behaviour, including through the misuse of scrambler motorcycles.”
I thank the Deputies for raising this issue and putting forward this motion this evening. I welcome the opportunity to update the Dáil on the ongoing proactive work being undertaken to combat the unlawful use of scramblers and quad bikes in public spaces. I know the issue is of concern to many people in this House, within both the Government and the Opposition. More importantly, it is a great concern for many communities. I acknowledge that Deputies are genuine in bringing forward the motion and in bringing these concerns to the floor of the House. I am not dismissing any concerns or only paying lip service to the issue. I want to work with Deputies, as does the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, who has responsibility for youth justice.
Having said that, I have proposed an amendment setting out the current and future work of the Garda and Government in respect of the issues on which this motion has been tabled. The seriousness with which the Government takes this issue is reflected in the programme for Government commitment to "Enhance powers available to An Garda Síochána to limit the use of scramblers and quads by those engaged in anti-social behaviour and enact legislation to add to those powers if needed." This is a clear commitment which I do not mention as a means to dismiss what the Deputies are proposing this evening. As this commitment recognises, potential legislation is just one part of the solution and my Government colleagues and I will not hesitate to choose that option if it is required.
An Garda Síochána tackles this behaviour on a number of fronts including through targeted enforcement in areas with high activity, working with petrol stations to prohibit the sale of fuel to persons who are using these vehicles and community outreach. Some of the Deputies have outlined what is happening in their own communities in this regard. Engagement with communities and awareness raising are just as important in tackling the misuse of scramblers and other vehicles. Such engagement and awareness raising includes making younger people aware of the dangers to themselves and others of using such vehicles and highlighting the dangers to parents considering buying such vehicles for their children. I join all Deputies in urging and asking parents not to buy scramblers or quad bikes for their children this Christmas and to acknowledge and understand the dangers that come with them and the impact they have on communities.
The misuse of scramblers, quad bikes and similar off-road urban vehicles is a cause for concern in a number of communities. We see this right across the country. It is principally, although not solely, an issue in Dublin. It also affects other urban centres. Issues typically arise where vehicles are used in public open spaces such as housing estates, playing pitches or public parks. Tragically, there have been cases in recent years where the misuse of these vehicles has led to death or very serious life-changing injuries. I know that all members of the House will join me in extending my deepest sympathies to all those who have been impacted by these horrific incidents.
Gardaí in areas such as Finglas have had success in reducing the number of issues with scramblers through targeted enforcement, as has been identified by Deputies, while youth community engagement groups in Limerick have had success in diverting young people away from using these vehicles in a dangerous manner in public places and towards properly organised motocross events. An Garda Síochána will continue to develop responses appropriate to the situation in each locality by working with local authorities and community partners. I know Deputies McAuliffe and Lahart have also made proposals in this area. These proposals, and those included in tonight's motion, will be considered as part of the work currently under way on this issue.
A cross-agency group to examine this issue, which has been mentioned and which principally involves my Department, the Department of Transport and An Garda Síochána, has been in place since 2018. The group has also engaged with other Departments, the Office of the Attorney General and local authorities. The group most recently met on 28 September and the principal issues arising from this meeting were identified across the areas of legislation, enforcement, community engagement and public awareness.
As Deputies will be aware, responsibility for legislation surrounding road safety and traffic enforcement rests with the Minister for Transport. In this context, responsibility for introducing any new legislative provisions which would seek to deliver on the commitments on scramblers and quad bikes contained in the programme for Government lies with my colleague, the Minister for Transport, although, to be very clear, my Department will also do what it can. I can inform the House that this matter has been subject to careful scrutiny by the Department of Transport, An Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice. I look forward to working with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on this issue.
Gardaí already have significant enforcement powers in respect of the dangerous misuse of vehicles and non-compliance with regulations on driver licensing, taxation and insurance, including the power to seize vehicles where appropriate. While it is not possible to quantify specifically the number of scramblers seized, as these are not categorised separately from other types of motorcycles in Garda records, I am informed that 51 quad bikes were seized by gardaí in 2019 and that an additional five were seized between January and September of this year. I anticipate this number increasing before the year is out.
Following further consideration of the matter by the Garda authorities, the Department of Transport is leading an additional examination to see if there are avenues for enhancing the existing overall legislative provisions. Any proposals in this regard would need to align with other relevant legislation, including local authority by-laws. Policing responses will still have to take account of the immediate safety issues involved in pursuing what are often very young drivers of vehicles in public areas. Interception of persons engaged in the use of these vehicles on public roads and spaces presents dangers not only to the users of the vehicles, but also to the public and members of the Garda. These difficulties will remain, irrespective of any legislative enhancements. Having spoken to gardaí about this, I know they are concerned that if they chase or follow young people using these scramblers, they may be partially responsible for causing an accident, making things even worse. Gardaí must make very difficult decisions in these instances and this will continue to be the case. Effective local engagement to raise awareness of the dangers involved and to promote positive behavioural change is fundamental to tackling this issue.
I welcome and acknowledge the ongoing work of the Road Safety Authority, RSA, to raise awareness of the dangers of the misuse of these vehicles. Deputies may have already heard the campaign advertisements which have been produced by the RSA and An Garda Síochána with the participation of the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton. These advertisements highlight the dangers involved and ask parents not to buy scramblers or quad bikes as presents for their children this Christmas.
My Department is also considering how best to develop actions to increase awareness of the dangers of these vehicles. The intention is that this work will be carried out in conjunction with affected communities, community groups and other stakeholders affected by the misuse of scramblers. It will also explore how best to engage with young people who are drawn to this behaviour.
In the year to date, my Department has been examining options in this area, with due regard to social distancing requirements and relevant public health advice. This has included a survey of the national network of Garda youth diversion projects, which was carried out early in 2020, to inform a more targeted approach for awareness raising measures. While the Covid-19 pandemic has, to some degree, hampered significant further development in this area, it is something my Department will continue to explore.
For example, the Department will consider if it is possible to target online awareness to the localities most affected, and will support suitable proposals for local initiatives, principally via the network of the 105 Garda youth diversion programmes. Deputies may be interested to know that the Moyross Garda youth diversion programme in Limerick has already devised a programme of tuition in vehicle maintenance and responsible use. This comes back to the point that when they are used safely and when people have an opportunity to do so, such an approach can be effective and reduces the risk and danger involved.
While the Garda youth diversion programmes have adapted their operations in light of the Covid-19 restrictions, there are still obvious limitations in pursuing increased engagement with particular groups within the communities. The key issue will be engaging effectively with those who use or are most likely to use scramblers or quad bikes inappropriately, and this will require locally generated strategies which respond to local circumstances. In this regard, I would envision that issues such as the misuse of these vehicles would also be the kind of issue which could be considered by the local community safety partnerships, which it is anticipated will be established under the upcoming policing and community safety Bill, the development of which forms a key part of the recommendations emerging from the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.
As Deputies will be aware, specifically on this issue, last week I announced the locations of three pilot schemes for the local community safety partnerships, which will run for two years in the areas of the Dublin north inner city electoral area, Waterford and Longford, and which will inform a national roll-out to all local authority areas. The partnerships recognise the need for a collaborative approach between communities, local authorities and services, including policing and youth services, to target efficiently issues affecting communities such as anti-social behaviour, including the misuse of scramblers.
Deputies have mentioned that a high percentage of those who are using these scramblers are under the age of 18. Therefore, issues of youth crime and anti-social behaviour will also be addressed in the new youth justice strategy, which will be brought to Government before the end of this year by my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, and will provide a renewed framework to enhance responses to youth crime and anti-social behaviour. Likewise, the forum on anti-social behaviour, which was recently convened by the Minister of State, Deputy Browne, in line with a commitment in the programme for Government, will also address this.
As Deputies will be aware, the Government has provided extensive resources to An Garda Síochána to support law enforcement and effective policing across all forms of offending. Garda numbers have increased, as have the financial supports and the availability of the equipment and vehicles the Garda. An Garda Síochána's budget for 2021 is an unprecedented €1.952 billion. This level of funding is enabling sustained and ongoing recruitment of Garda members and staff. As a result, there are now some 14,600 Garda members and more than 3,000 Garda staff. The latter represent almost 20% of our force, which is a significant increase in a small number of years. Budget 2021 will allow for the recruitment of up to 620 new gardaí and an extra 500 Garda staff.
The Government and An Garda Síochána are committed to combatting issues of the misuse of scramblers and quad bikes and to addressing anti-social behaviour more broadly because this is part of a wider issue. We want to work proactively with all Members within the House in doing that and I ask Members to support this amendment. I support Deputies in their call to ask parents not to buy these for their children this Christmas, acknowledging and recognising the danger they pose as well as the impact they have on our communities.