Before we get into the substance of the Bill, I have to say that were I to come along and present this legislation,l I would be laughed out of the Bills Office because to be honest, it is very difficult to know what the scope of the Bill is as something like 14 different items are listed. It is not that there is not merit in most of them, it is that most are not connected to one another. It will make our road traffic legislation even more complicated. I know the Minister of State is aware of that particular issue.
Last week this was pulled from the draft schedule. Obviously the Bill had not been completed. It has all of the hallmarks of something that is rushed and yet it contains some important things. I believe a lot of amendments will be brought forward on Committee Stage and I understand the Minister of State herself may well bring forward amendments on some aspects.
Our road traffic legislation was incomprehensible even before this Bill. This Bill makes it worse. How exactly does the Minister of State expect members of the Garda to do their job and enforce road traffic laws when the Department appears to be determined to make them more difficult to understand? We have a responsibility to ensure that the laws that we pass in this House are comprehensible, not just to the Garda Síochána and the Law Library but to every citizen. How many people would go to this Bill to look for some of the things that are in it?
When it comes to road traffic legislation, we have failed in this regard. At the same time, I want to acknowledge the Minister of State's commitment to consolidating the Road Traffic Acts which, I am sure, is a mammoth task. She might address that issue when she sums up. When are we likely to see that? Will be during the lifetime of this Dáil? It is needed. The last thing we want is the law being circumvented by people who can get around things through technicalities in our courts system. We need clear, consolidated legislation.
In the first instance, I want to start almost at the back of the Bill. I want to draw attention to section 45, which, as I understand it, will provide An Bord Pleanála with the power to override local authorities and local development plans. The amendment states:
An Bord Pleanála shall approve a scheme, or a proposed road development, that contravenes materially any development plan or any local area plan (within the meaning of the Act of 2000) only if it considers that one of the following is the case ... the (proposed) development plan or the objectives are not clearly stated, insofar as the scheme or proposed road development (scheme) is concerned ... the scheme or proposed road development should be approved having regard to the transport strategy made under section 12 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008, the regional spatial and economic strategy for the area, guidelines under section 28 of the Act of 2000, policy directives under section 29 of the Act of 2000, the statutory obligations of any local authority in the area, and any relevant policy of the Government, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage or any Minister of the Government ... [T]he scheme or proposed road development should be approved having regard to the pattern of development, and planning permissions granted, in the area since the making of the development plan.
It seems to me that captures, or potentially captures, an awful lot.
I can think of a couple of road proposals that are very controversial and are likely to fall exactly within the terms of this provision. For example, there is a park between Lucan and Leixlip, St. Catherine's Park, that is jointly managed by three local authorities. There is a proposal, and it was even published yesterday as part of the Dublin transport strategy, to put a dual carriageway through the middle of the park. There will be many people lying down in front of bulldozers if that happens. If the local authorities are going to be cut out of the decision-making on this, people would have a right to ask: what is the point of local government? Another proposed road in my constituency has failed twice through the Part 8 process. It is judged to be in the wrong place by the residents in the area. Do they count for anything?
The Minister of State might elaborate on why this provision ended up in this legislation in the first instance. Why is it not in a planning and development legislative measure, where one would expect to see it, rather than in this road traffic legislation, and a very miscellaneous legislative measure at that? If we are to build confidence among the public, people need clarity. A debate in the Seanad has just started on new legislation relating to the replacement of strategic housing developments. I remember when the legislation on strategic housing developments was being debated in this House. I told the House that the legislation would end up in the courts because if one removed the ability to appeal a decision and if one bypassed the local authorities there was only one place the legislation would go. That is exactly what happened. It is very important that we pay attention to the mistakes that have been made. This section should be deleted from the Bill. It is not properly positioned in the legislation and I would like to hear an elaboration on why it was included in the first place or what were the circumstances or perhaps some examples as to why it was included.
There are a number of provisions in the legislation relating to e-scooters. One can either ban them or legislate for them. I believe we should legislate for them, but that does not happen without significant issues. I am quite sure the Minister of State is more than aware of that. E-scooters typically travel at approximately 20 km/h and have a range of between 15 km and 25 km between charges. They do not require the same licensing, insurance and tax considerations as motorbikes. There is no doubt that legalising and regulating the use of e-scooters have been necessary for a long time. E-scooters have been a common feature on the roads in our cities and towns, using the cycle lanes. If one is using one, which I would be terrified to do, it is very difficult to know where is the safest place to do so. They are probably an important component of moving people away from cars and giving them an ability to move around quite quickly, but questions remain about exactly how they will be regulated and who will regulate them.
When this legislation is passed, there are over a dozen firms lined up who are interested in providing e-scooter rentals. These rental companies have caused a great deal of chaos on the streets of other European and American cities due to the rental scooters being just left behind on footpaths and so forth. For people with disabilities, people with visual impairments and people who are not fast on their feet to get out of the way, it is a big issue of concern that e-scooter users would mingle with people on footpaths. How do we plan to regulate, and who will regulate, the industry? We cannot make the same mistakes that have been made elsewhere. E-scooters do not have a licence plate. Who carries the liability? Does the renter carry the liability if somebody gets injured, including the person who is using the e-scooter? How does one identify it and how realistic is for members of the Garda to be able to deal with an incident where they cannot identify the vehicle that has been used? What consideration has been given to the examples from other European cities where there have been problems? While there are fewer accidents with e-scooters because there are not as many of them as there are bicycles, when accidents occur they tend to be more serious. There is quite an amount of information and I have more questions regarding how the regulation will work in practice than I have answers.
The Minister of State said that the Government intends to bring forward amendments on Committee Stage to allow asylum seekers to access driver licences. That is a welcome development. It has been called for over many years by asylum seekers, human rights groups and several Members of the Oireachtas. The delay in affording driver licences to asylum seekers has caused more hardship than has been necessary. It has added to the hardship. Direct provision centres are often in isolated locations and not having the ability to drive has been an impediment to getting work, bringing children to school, socialising and so forth, so it is very important. There was a court case recently and I do not understand why it appears that the State was fighting that court case and objecting against the National Driver Licence Service while at the same time there were plans to deliver this in legislation. I do not understand why that would be the case. In 2018, the then Minister for Transport, Mr. Shane Ross, stated that he had received legal advice that it was possible to issue driver licences to asylum seekers, so why did the State contest that case? It does not make sense that it was not just regularised in legislation rather than fighting it through the courts. That would have been costly and it was going to be remedied in this way anyway.
Deputy Gannon will deal with the issue of scramblers, which is incredibly important for many people. It is welcome that they are being legislated for here. Many issues will be raised with regard to the regulation of those as well.