Protection of Children’s Health (Idling of Mechanically Propelled Vehicles in Vicinity of Schools) Bill 2021: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide, in the interests of protecting children’s health, for an offence relating to causing or permitting a mechanically propelled vehicle to remain idle in the vicinity of a school, and for those purposes to make certain provisions in relation to the powers of members of the Garda Síochána, the provision of traffic signs and the payment of a fixed charge as an alternative to prosecution for such an offence, and to provide for related matters.

I am delighted to introduce my third Bill to the House today, the Protection of Children’s Health (Idling of Mechanically Propelled Vehicles in Vicinity of Schools) Bill 2021, particularly as this is clean air week. This Bill seeks to ban the unnecessary idling of cars within 100 m of schools and to further protect the health and safety of our children attending those schools. It is a culmination of my work to date as the Social Democrats' spokesperson for climate action and biodiversity, and indeed our spokesperson for children. This legislation is in line with previous Bills I have introduced to tackle the issue of climate change and environmental damage in many different capacities. I thank the Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers, the drafters and my parliamentary assistant, Jodie Neary, who have done a huge amount of work on this Bill.

As I mentioned, the Bill seeks to ban the unnecessary idling of cars within 100 m of schools across the country. The notion of a ban is supported by much national and international research. Emissions from cars, in transit or idling, at the school gates results in an increase in pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide, and, in particular, matter in the air. In a report by the Royal College of Physicians, Every Breath We Take, it was noted that particulate matter has been linked to suppressed lung growth in children, asthma, heart disease and the onset of type 2 diabetes. An idling engine can produce up to twice as many exhaust emissions as an engine in motion. International studies have found that idling for more than ten seconds uses more fuel and produces more CO2 compared to restarting one's engine. Despite the misconception out there, idling is bad for one's pocket as well as children's health.

According to the Asthma Society of Ireland, young people are arguably more susceptible to air pollution than adults due to their smaller size, their developing physiology and their closer proximity to fumes from cars. Any parent who has been in the proximity of a school can picture children in buggies and the little ones walking past cars that pump out toxins in their faces, in many instances. The society also notes that one in five Irish children experience asthma at some stage in their lives and this is directly linked to poor air quality. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency has stated that 1,300 deaths can be attributed to air pollution quality in Ireland every year. It is, therefore, a significant health issue.

I recognise that legislation alone will not stop car idling. We also need an education piece to accompany this ban, including an education campaign to educate schools, parents and the wider school community. I truly believe that if parents really understood the damage that car idling causes their children and those attending school or in their vicinity, they would switch off those engines. An education piece would make parents think twice about driving their children to school and would encourage children to walk instead of using car transport to get there. As part of this, we need to make it safer for children and parents to walk and cycle to school.

Many schools are already committed to introducing no-idling zones as part of campaigns to combat air pollution caused by cars left running when dropping off and collecting children at the school gates. During clean air week in November 2020, dozens of schools committed to introducing no-idling zones, and this campaign continues to grow in strength. I hope more schools commit to those programmes in light of this year's clean air week. While schools throughout the country are already doing their best to protect children's health and reduce emissions, the Government needs to take a lead on this by showing its support for the Bill, thereby providing schools with a legislative framework so they can continue to encourage parents to switch off the engines.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have said in recent years that they would be keen on bringing in legislation of this nature. I hope we get cross-party support on this. It is one of simple things we can do. A lot of the time, climate and environment issues can seem very big and global. This simple, effective measure would send a strong message to drivers and parents that children's health and the protection of the environment are key priorities. I look forward to working with the Taoiseach on this.

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.