Criminal Justice (Public Order) (Quadbikes and Scramblers) (Amendment) Bill 2021: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend and extend the Road Traffic Acts 1961 to 2020 to give Gardaí the power to seize and detain quad bikes and scrambler motorcycles when being used unlawfully including in public parks and green spaces and to provide for related matters.

I wish to share time with Deputy Quinlivan.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I doubt many Members are unaware of the scourge of scramblers and quads in our communities. On a weekly basis, I get representations from my constituents, from Ongar right across to Tyrellstown and down to the Navan Road and the Royal Canal area. Many members of our community, including those who ride these dangerous bikes in our communities, have been seriously injured and, tragically, some have lost their lives.

The purpose of the Bill is to extend the powers of gardaí to seize and detain quad bikes and scramblers used unlawfully in public places, including public parks and green spaces. The Bill will establish an offence of driving a quad bike or scrambler in a public place and will provide for penalties or a fine and-or seizure of the vehicle and-or a term of imprisonment not exceeding six months. The Bill will finally close a loophole that has allowed those terrorising our communities to openly ride scramblers on our green spaces and parks.

I was very disappointed that the Government did not include proposed legislation for this term. This does not tally with its promise on 18 November, when the Minister stood in the Dáil and said:

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.”

If the Government was genuinely concerned about the issue of scramblers in our communities, I would not have had to move this Bill today.

We have spoken on this in the House on a number of occasions, including in a previous Dáil, and it is an issue that needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, it overwhelmingly affects working-class communities and that is why I believe no action has been taken on it to date. Scramblers and quad bikes are also a nuisance to local communities across the State. We have seen greenways and sports pitches ruined by the skid marks and tyre marks of quad bikes and scramblers.

While this might seem the least concerning problem with the use of these vehicles, it is now a concern for residents of urban housing estates. Community members give up their time to ensure sports pitches and sports clubs are maintained properly. Folks use their precious leisure time to ensure that our kids have facilities and sports fields. For those who give up their time, it is extremely disheartening to turn up on a Saturday or Sunday morning and see the damage done by these vehicles. These bikes cause thousands of euro worth of damage annually. Pitches have to be relaid at great expense to clubs and schools in terms of both time and money.

Gardaí have told me they are given instructions not to chase quad bikes when they are driving around council estates because of the safety risk to themselves, to the drivers and to people walking around the area.

Unfortunately, sometimes the age of quad bike and scrambler users is cause for great concern. Road Safety Authority, RSA, statistics show that 48% of incidents resulting in death or injury on scramblers involved people under the age of 18 years. Children do not know, nor should not be expected to know, how to maintain a vehicle. Last spring, gardaí in Limerick stopped two youths who were operating scramblers in the canal bank area of the city. Neither was wearing protective equipment and neither bike had working brakes. There is no requirement to register these vehicles in general and no minimum safety checks are performed on the vehicles.

Safety concerns around scramblers are nothing new. Unfortunately, there have been a number of deaths and serious injuries as a result of their use. As far back as 2007, there was tragedy in Limerick when a young girl had an accident in a field when using a scrambler.

I am concerned by two particular aspects of the use of the vehicles in urban settings. One is the age of the operators. Scramblers are often bought as Christmas presents for children. Children should not have access to motorised vehicles. They do not appreciate the grave dangers these vehicles pose to themselves and others. Their use in an urban setting is very irritating to other residents who endure the constant sound of engines revving. They must be alert to the presence of these vehicles on footpaths as well as roads and green areas. It is simply not fair. Concern about the use of quad bikes and scramblers is not new, but Covid restrictions brought home to many the sheer number of these vehicles in urban areas. People who were confined to their homes witnessed and heard these disruptions 24-7.

I commend the Bill to the Dáil. It calls for non-contentious and logical steps to ensure proper regulations of these vehicles. It would give gardaí the necessary powers to seize the bikes and detain the users where the vehicles are being used in a dangerous and reckless manner, extend the legal definition of "public space", and extend the national vehicle database.

For clarity, there are people who use quad bikes and scramblers very responsibly. Those people must also be protected. This Bill is not aimed at people who use them properly in sport.

I welcome the Bill from the two Deputies, but for clarity, Deputy Paul Donnelly said that the matter of scramblers was not referenced in the Government's legislative programme; it is. On the priority list in the road traffic (miscellaneous provisions) Bill, there is a specific reference to provisions around scramblers. It is important to clarify that. We will work with the other parties on this issue.

Is the Bill being opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.