General Scheme of the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2020: Discussion

I apologise to our witnesses for the delay. The committee was dealing with some very important matters while in private session. I welcome the officials from the Department of Transport to the meeting: Mr. Eddie Burke, Mr. Paul Hannon, Mr. Éanna Ó Conghaile and Ms Hillary Dalton.

Before we begin I draw witnesses' attention to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. Witnesses are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I now invite Mr. Ó Conghaile to make his opening statement.

Mr. Éanna Ó Conghaile

I thank the Chairman for having us here today. I am here to brief the committee on Part 13 of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (consequential provisions) Bill 2020, which provides for matters relating to cross-Border bus services.

For the duration of the current transition period, bus services between Ireland and the UK, including Northern Ireland, have continued to operate under EU Regulation No. 1073, which will last until 31 December. In the event that no further agreement is made between the EU and the UK, we will face a de facto no-deal scenario on 1 January 2021. In this scenario, and if no EU contingency for bus services is in place, we need to be able to provide contingency for the continuation of these bus services. This is what Part 13 of the new Bill seeks to do.

The objectives of the Good Friday Agreement include the need to maintain connectivity between people, communities and businesses on the island of Ireland. The continuation of cross-Border bus services is essential in maintaining this connectivity. For those living in the rural communities of the Border counties, these bus services are of particular significance as very often they are the only mode of public transport available.

Pre-Covid, on a daily basis, Monday to Friday, there were more than 300 cross-Border bus journeys authorised by the National Transport Authority, NTA. These are what are known as "regular" services - in other words, they operate on set days and times and serve predetermined stops. This figure of 300 does not take into account occasional or special regular services, nor does it include services authorised by the competent authority in Northern Ireland, the Department for Infrastructure. Occasional services are those operating on a more ad hoc basis, for example a bus hired to travel from Kildare to Belfast for a concert. Special regular services are those that operate under a contract such as a bus hired by a company to transport its employees to work on a regular basis. We need to ensure that there is continuity of all of these services and that service standards of the highest safety and quality are maintained.

On a long-term solution, the UK has signalled its intention to join the Interbus Agreement. This is an EU-level agreement that enables occasional bus services to operate between the EU and third countries. There is a protocol to extend this agreement to include regular and special regular services but it is not expected to be in place until the middle of next year. The Department and the European Commission view the Interbus Agreement as the most appropriate solution for cross-Border bus services. We welcome the UK's stated intention to accede to this agreement. We would also very much welcome the UK acceding to the protocol. If the UK does accede to the Interbus Agreement but the protocol is not yet in place, we will use Part 13 as a contingency for regular and special regular services only, with occasional services being covered by the Interbus Agreement. In the event of the UK not joining the Interbus Agreement, or no EU-level agreement or contingency being in place on 1 January, then Part 13 will be needed to allow for the continuation of all categories of bus service between Ireland and the UK as a third country.

Part 13 sets out the changes needed to achieve this, proposing amendments to the Road Transport Act 1978, the Public Transport Regulation Act 2009 and the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008.

After the end of the transition period, Ireland will be allowed under EU law to enter into a bilateral agreement with the UK for bus services, so long as no bus agreement exists between the UK and the EU. Part 13 lays out the rules which could form the backdrop to Ireland’s negotiations on a bilateral agreement on bus services with the UK.

As mentioned, the National Transport Authority is Ireland’s competent authority for regulating bus services with other member states. The heads in Part 13 of this Bill will make the NTA the competent authority to similarly regulate bus services between Ireland and third countries.

While the heads presented here are largely similar to the provisions of Part 10 of the 2019 Act, there is a small change under head 13.5 relating to the proposed section 28N, to be inserted in the Public Transport Regulation Act 2009. This provision had provided that services operating under a reciprocal arrangement, this being an interim arrangement while a bilateral is being negotiated, could operate for a period of 12 weeks. We are seeking to amend this to 24 weeks to provide additional time to be able to complete any negotiations in the context of Covid-19 and the additional challenges it might bring to finalising any negotiations.

As with all other Departments involved in this Bill, we have been engaging with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel as a matter of priority and that work is nearing finalisation. In fact, we hope to have it finalised within the next day or so. This engagement has focused on ensuring that the heads provide workable solutions to deal with the long-term implications of Brexit for cross-Border bus services. While the Interbus Agreement and its protocol are the optimal long-term solutions, we need to prepare for any gaps that may arise and Part 13 is key to providing practical solutions in that regard.

The intention of Part 13 in the omnibus Bill is to provide robust primary legislation which, in the absence of an EU-level solution, will help ensure the future continuation of bus services between Ireland and Northern Ireland, as well as between Ireland and Great Britain. The Department is grateful for the support this Part has received thus far. We trust that we can continue to work together to advance the necessary legislation.

I thank the Chairman and members for inviting me to make this presentation and look forward to hearing the views of the committee and responding to any questions.

I thank Mr. Ó Conghaile and now call on Mr. Hannon to make his opening statement.

Mr. Paul Hannon

I am here to brief the committee on the general scheme for Part 12 of the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill 2020. Part 12 concerns amendments to the provisions of the Harbours Act 1996 regarding pilotage exemption certificates. The Part concerns the issue of harbour pilotage exemption certificates, PECs. Pilotage entails a certified pilot boarding a vessel to guide it safely into, around or out of a port. Dublin Port Company employs 12 pilots who carry out 4,000 pilot jobs per year. However, under section 72 of the Harbours Act 1996, a pilotage exemption certificate may also be granted by a harbour company for a period of up to one year to one of three ranks on board a ship, namely, a ship master or captain, chief mate, or the officer of the watch holding the relevant seafarer qualification where that person can show the required competency and sufficient knowledge of the port pilotage district. The majority of ship movements in Dublin Port are carried out by captains who are holders of Dublin Port pilotage exemption certificates.

Part 12, which proposes amendments to the Harbours Act 1996, was developed to address concerns that pilotage exemption certificates which have been issued by Dublin Port Company to seafarers holding UK certificates of competence may no longer be valid or may very quickly become invalid after the end of the transition period, with no means of renewing those PECs for a period after the end of the transition period.

Pilotage exemption certificates meet the statutory pilotage requirements on approximately 65% of all ship movements in Dublin Port’s pilotage district. The frequency with which PECs are used in Dublin Port on ferries to and from the UK is high, given that ferries from the UK arrive daily, for example, from Liverpool and Heysham, or twice daily from Holyhead. If PECs that have been issued to seafarers with UK seafarer certificates of competence on such ferries became invalid at the end of the transition period, it would lead to a number of serious problems for Dublin Port. The turnaround efficiency would be greatly reduced as the act of boarding and disembarking harbour pilots is time-consuming with a consequent impact on roll-on, roll off, RoRo, ferries operating on tight schedules which transport most of the country’s RoRo freight. Pilotage by a port pilot is considerably more expensive for ferry operators than pilotage exemption certificates and the need to use pilots would impose significant additional costs on ferry companies and, in turn, their customers and end consumers at a time when many ferry companies are experiencing difficult trading conditions due to Covid.

The act of boarding and disembarking port pilots brings with it an inherent risk which is greater for larger vessels. While this risk is mitigated through standard operating procedures, there are occasions during bad weather when the mitigation is to suspend the ports pilotage service, thus delaying cargo vessels.

Dublin Port Company pilots are fully occupied dealing with the more difficult pilotage assignments and the company would not be able to employ and train sufficient pilots to meet the requirement for pilotage for ferries in the time available. The time to train a newly employed pilot for ferry operations varies from 16 months for the smallest ferries to 36 months for the largest.

What does Part 12 do? Part 12 sets out amendments needed to the Harbours Act 1996 to address the concerns raised that PECs based on UK certificates of competence may no longer be valid following the end of the transition period. Part 12.1 of the Bill provides a definition for the purposes of Part 12.

Part 12.2 of the heads of the Bill ensures that a pilotage exemption certificate remains valid for the period specified in the PEC and while the person must hold the relevant seafarers certificate of competence at the time of the making of the application for the PEC, once granted, the PEC remains valid in accordance with its terms. It also provides for an extension of the period of validity of the pilotage exemption certificates from the current one year to a maximum of three years. It will also allow existing holders of pilotage exemption certificates to apply for new certificates in the period leading up to the end of the transition period, notwithstanding the fact that their PECs may not have expired.

Part 12.3 of the heads of the Bill will enable a harbour company, through its by-laws, to require the holder of a PEC of more than one year’s duration to undergo a periodic review to ensure they continue to have the relevant competence and local knowledge of the harbour pilotage district to enable the holder of the certificate to pilot the ship within that pilotage district. It is proposed that this Part of the Bill, following enactment, would be commenced shortly before the end of the transition period to enable Dublin Port Company to complete the processing of applications for three-year PECs in line with the legislative changes to the Harbours Act 1996 set out in Part 12.

As with all other Departments involved in this Bill, we have been engaging with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel as a matter of priority and we have finalised that work as regards Part 12.

The purpose of Part 12 of the Brexit omnibus Bill is to provide amendments in primary legislation which will ensure that ferries can continue to be piloted efficiently and with quick turnaround times in Dublin Port without unnecessary delays, particularly at the end of the transition period. The Department is grateful for the support this Part has received thus far and in its previous life as Part 9 of the 2019 Brexit omnibus Act. There are no differences between the 2019 legislation and the provisions of the 2020 Bill. We look forward to working with the committee to advance this necessary legislation.

I thank the Chairman for inviting us to make this presentation and look forward to hearing any views or comments of the committee and responding to any questions members may have.

I thank Mr. Hannon. I now move to the committee members. Representatives from Sinn Féin have seven minutes.

All of this obviously makes sense. I do not think anyone would have thought about pilotage exemption certificates or anything like it when the Brexit vote went through initially but this is the madness we have to deal with. Is it the case that the Interbus Agreement will not kick in until the middle of next year?

Mr. Éanna Ó Conghaile

The Interbus Agreement already exists and is made up of two parts. It covers occasional services such as bringing people to concerts and travelling from Belfast to Dublin, Derry to Dublin or whatever. The intention of the UK, as far as we know, is to accede to that. The UK must sign up to it this month for it to take effect on 1 January. The UK's membership takes effect on the first day of the third month after they sign. In our contacts with them they have made it clear to us and, I think, to the European Commission that they do intend signing. If they do that this month then from 1 January they will have acceded and the Interbus Agreement will take effect for them but only cover occasional services.

There was originally a protocol. Originally, four states, including the European Union, had to sign up. The European Union was the only one that signed up so the protocol fell. That has been renegotiated in Europe and it is now going to go, as far as I can see, to the October Transport Council to take effect again but it still needs three contracting parties, one of which will be the EU, to bring it into effect. My best guess is that it will really not come into effect until the middle of next year, and that is the one that covers regular and special regular services. In other words, the X3 service from Derry to Dublin or the ones that cross the Border around Donegal and so on.

And parts of County Louth.

Mr. Éanna Ó Conghaile


What happens in between?

Mr. Éanna Ó Conghaile

This is all about layers of contingency in preparation for 1 January. We have no confirmation of this, and obviously the EU is in negotiations with the UK so they do not want to enter into discussions on the possibility, but there is a possibility that a contingency regulation will be made by the EU. We do not know and we cannot tell. There was one in place for 1 January 2020 and that was for a continuation of the status quo.

So that can be operated easily.

Mr. Éanna Ó Conghaile


But at the minute we are in the middle of negotiations and the madness.

Mr. Éanna Ó Conghaile

So that is one possibility. If the protocol is not in place then we would seek to bring this part of the Act into place. What this allows for is an informal arrangement first, and this is all allowed under the EU treaties. Where there is not an EU third country agreement on something then the member state is allowed to engage on a bilateral basis. There is a mechanism in this part of the Bill that allows us to have an informal arrangement, by way of a phone call or letter, with our counterparts in the Department for Transport in the UK, to basically say, let us work on a bilateral but in the meantime for the next 24 weeks we will keep things in place.

There is no bus stopping at the Border.

Mr. Éanna Ó Conghaile


And there are a couple of contingencies.

I appreciate and understand where we are at in terms of negotiating with the EU. Where does the Department for Infrastructure fit in all of this? We do have an Assembly that sits in the North. The Good Friday Agreement allows this; I mean it is a devolved matter.

Mr. Éanna Ó Conghaile

Yes, we would be doing it with the Department for Infrastructure.

What does that mean?

Mr. Éanna Ó Conghaile

We would engage with the Department for Infrastructure on a bilateral. I am not really sure. Before I mislead the Senator I will double check. Up to now we have had a good relationship with our colleagues in the Department for Infrastructure in Belfast whom I last met late last year. Brexit makes it a bit more difficult to meet. I will clarify the matter and get back to the Senator.

It is very important.

Mr. Éanna Ó Conghaile


Regardless of how this falls there is a Department and Minister who have a responsibility for transport in the North and should be central to all of these conversations. Notwithstanding the logistics of the negotiations between the UK and Irish Governments, there should be engagement with that Department.

We are discussing very important legislation. I want to ask about public bus transport. Are there implications for licences and insurance held by private companies? I refer to people, as Mr. Ó Conghaile has said, who occasionally travel from the Six Counties into the Twenty-six Counties. They are covered by section 13.

Mr. Éanna Ó Conghaile

They will be.

Will these people be covered in terms of insurance? Will the insurance of private operators cover them in the South? Has this issue been considered?

Mr. Éanna Ó Conghaile

My understanding is that it would be dealt with under a different part of the Bill and I do not see any change occurring to that. I would imagine that cross-Border insurance arrangements, which are probably a matter for the Department of Finance and so on, will continue but I can double-check and confirm. My understanding is that there will be no change in that and the same with bus companies such as McGinley's, McConnon's and all of those that currently operate cross-Border services.

Will their licences be okay to be used in what has been deemed a third country?

Mr. Éanna Ó Conghaile

Under this Bill there is a provision where the Minister can deem certain third country licences to be licences for the purposes of EU or Irish regulation so they will be deemed as exactly the same.

I suggest that there be engagement with the Department for Infrastructure on this issue and on all of the omnibus legislation that is relevant to that Department.

Mr. Éanna Ó Conghaile

I will get back to the Senator after I clarify both of the issues.

I thank Mr. Ó Conghaile.

Now it is the Fine Gael slot. I thank the witnesses for coming here to present this issue to us. I encourage them to resolve issues and work with the various parties to get to the bottom of them. I call Senator Buttimer.

I thank the officials for being here to discuss these important issues. On the point made by Senator McCallion, UK citizens now have 90 days to change a licence.

A readiness notice was issued in the summer on transport. In the context of a failure to reach an agreement, and clearly this Government is committed to facilitating a very important cross-Border bus service, has the EU contingency regulation and readiness notice had any import on both of these pieces of legislation or have I misread things?

Mr. Éanna Ó Conghaile

If there is no agreement and no contingency measure in place then this legislation will come in.

Will that have any impact on previous decisions?

Mr. Éanna Ó Conghaile

The whole aim of this legislation is to maintain the status quo.

That is important. All of us are committed to facilitating the continuation of cross-Border bus services.

In terms of harbours, and I know that the witnesses did not mention the Port of Cork City or the Shannon Foynes Port Company, but why are they not part of this matter? I am sorry for not knowing the answer.

Mr. Paul Hannon

For the 2019 Act, there were two relevant certificates of competencies, which would have been relevant in the Cork. The ship captains no longer operate the ferry so the port of Cork does not have any issue. There is none in Shannon Foynes either because licensed pilots are used. They do not issue pilots with exemption certificates.

Now it is the Fianna Fáil slot and I call Deputy Cathal Crowe and Senator Dooley.

I apologise for my absence in the Chamber but I have speedily read the presentation. A lot of the presentation is particularly relevant to Border areas and the other part of the presentation relates to Dublin Port.

Senator Buttimer asked a question and subsequently our questions about the estuary of the Shannon have been answered. There is a fabulous Eurolines service; I took the coach a few years ago and got to England on one of these services.

Yesterday we had the airlines here. Both Ryanair and Aer Lingus told us that unless their protocols are accepted next week in Europe, their very service will be jeopardised. Has the industry come with any more concerns to the Department in advance of 1 January? I could see this as positive legislation. The airlines have come in very loudly and clearly and said if X, Y and Z are not in place the viability of their service is in question. Is there anything we need to be aware of politically for these cross-Border or mainland Ireland to UK services? Are any other frameworks that would be of concern to the industry being worked on by the Department? Is this the main legislative change coming in?

Mr. Éanna Ó Conghaile

For bus passenger services, this is it, whether in respect of the type of service the Deputy took to the UK or the regular service to Northern Ireland.

This will cover everything.

Mr. Éanna Ó Conghaile

We have been engaging particularly with the coach and tour operators down here. My colleague, Mr. Burke, has been meeting them regularly to keep them briefed on what is going on and to flag when they need to do something and so on, just to make them aware of what the position is.

All I have to say then is to keep up the good work. There are so many sectoral concerns at the moment, it is good to hear the officials have one of them in hand. This legislation will cover some of those anomalies that are sure to arise.

The officials will have to excuse my ignorance in many regards. I am a newbie to this committee and indeed to this institution. This question may be directed more towards the clerk, through the Chair. For these pieces of legislation, we have been given a brief understanding of them in the here and now. There was a large piece of legislation, the original omnibus Bill, that would affect many issues that this committee has within its brief, the likes of data, trains, aviation and all of that type of stuff. Would it be possible for us to get a briefing note on what the previous omnibus legislation had said about all of those things? I know it is a huge Act but it would be helpful to get a summary of the main points around all of the big issues. What does the legislation mean for data-sharing North and South? What does it mean for train services, haulage and all of that type of stuff? I ask the witnesses to excuse my ignorance but they may have worked on some of this and may be able to give us some insight into it. At this point, in terms of the negotiations, I am quite fearful of the lack of engagement between here and the Department in the North. I understand the mechanics of it and why the negotiations have had to be with the UK Government. However, there are a lot of questions unanswered, particularly for people at the Northern end who are working in haulage and aviation. Could we have a summary of all of those things that have been before?

We can organise to try to get a breakdown of the previous omnibus Bill in respect of the matters the Senator has raised and look for a briefing note on the main points and big issues she has outlined. We will try to get that out to the Senator. The clerk cannot come in on this issue, unfortunately.

I agree with Senator McCallion's request. I assume that the current legislation is based on the withdrawal agreement and the Irish protocol. Some of the omnibus legislation is very different from that of last year because there was contained within the previous omnibus Bill the cliff-edge scenario, which is not necessarily included in this. The officials must correct me if I am wrong. In fairness, I probably had a notion like Senator McCallion's that we were going to get a greater amount of detail on a greater number of issues, given that there is also a question about what this committee deals with as regards communications.

Mr. Éanna Ó Conghaile

I will hand this over to my colleague, Mr. Burke. I do not have sight over the whole omnibus Bill. The reins of this are being held by the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs because it is an international matter. Mr. Burke is in our Brexit co-ordination division within the Department so he would have a broader view. Maybe after he is finished I can come back to Senator McCallion on the rail issue.

Mr. Eddie Burke

In terms of transport, there is no real difference between what was in the omnibus Bill last year and what is in the omnibus Bill this year. Irrespective of whether it is the withdrawal agreement or a no-deal Brexit, it just happens that in those cases it does not make that much of a difference. On the other issues, road haulage has been dealt with in the wider negotiation. It is an EU competence and is being dealt with within that. The issues about access and cabotage and all the road haulage issues that we need resolved are part of that. We would like to see arrangements similar to those we have currently but that is subject to the negotiations. It is kind of stuck at the moment. The Senator will have seen in the pronunciations by Michel Barnier that matters are stuck on the level playing field provisions, where the UK is looking for access but without necessarily signing up to the general standards that apply to EU members.

Maritime is not something that comes within our purview, apart from the pilotage exemption certificates, PECs, issue. Maritime connectivity is the big issue that we have. That is not so much stuck in the negotiations because maritime is a very open sector. However, the customs and agriculture checks that will be required for imports both in the UK and here in Ireland pose a danger that they will disrupt the flow of goods across the UK land bridge. For anybody going from Dublin across the UK and driving out into Dover and Calais there is a big danger of delays and the UK is predicting a high risk of disruption. The key maritime issue for ourselves is to try to encourage trade to go around. There is sufficient capacity on the direct services that leave from Dublin, Rosslare and indeed Cork and Shannon Foynes. It is mainly Dublin and Rosslare that go directly into European ports. That means those hauliers will avoid the UK land bridge and potential disruption at Dover Port or Holyhead. It also means they would stay within the Single Market and would not have to fill out customs documentation, so there would be less of a cost. The big ask from a maritime point of view is trying to get business not to leave it to the last minute and decide then there is a problem but to try to get them to move in advance.

On aviation it is a similar type issue in that it is an EU competence and it is in the negotiations. On the whole issue around connectivity, there is no default or WTO rules. Aviation is not covered by WTO rules. If we do not have an agreement there has to be some sort of fall-back position. We will be looking to the EU for contingency similar to what was in place last year. On citizens' issues, I can only cover the transport aspect. One of the issues would be UK driver licences. For anybody living in Ireland with a UK driver licence, it will no longer be valid from 1 January. The Road Safety Authority had a large campaign last year and again this year to try to get people to switch. We do not want a situation where people driving around day to day suddenly find their licence is not valid. The Road Safety Authority estimates that approximately 70,000 residents in Ireland hold UK licences. It reckons between 53,000 and 55,000 of them have switched since the start of 2019. We still need to get the remainder over that line as well.

I am conscious of the time. On the licences, is there a transition period after 1 January? So I am crystal clear, on 2 January, anyone who currently holds a UK licence who is driving in this State will not be covered by their licence.

Mr. Eddie Burke

The licence is not valid; it is not recognised here. To make a distinction, I am referring to somebody who is resident in Ireland. Somebody living in Newry will be fine in that they may drive up and down using a UK licence.

On the question of whether there could be an insurance issue, there could be if a driver does not have a licence. The other insurance issue from a citizen point of view is that people from the North who are driving into Ireland or elsewhere within the European Union will be required to have a green card. The United Kingdom, for its part, confirmed last year that it will accept a motor insurance disc on the windscreen of an Irish vehicle as proof of insurance. Any traffic coming from the North or Great Britain to the South will require a green card unless the European Commission can set a date for which it is not required. So far, it does not intend to do that.

Mr. Éanna Ó Conghaile

The issue of rail was raised. Rail does not come under this Bill because there is no need for it to do so. We actually have arrangements in place. This is one area in which we can work very well with our colleagues in Belfast by way of co-operation between the Commission for Railway Regulation and the regulator in the North, namely the Department for Infrastructure, and between Translink and Irish Rail. Translink is licensed as a railway undertaking in the South under the EU directives. All its drivers will be licensed here by 1 January and they are certified under the safety directive. The Enterprise service is operated as part of a joint venture between Irish Rail and Translink in the North so there will be no change and no impact on Belfast–Dublin services.

Mr. Eddie Burke

I should have mentioned that, with regard to engagement with our counterparts in the Department for Infrastructure, the first transport sectoral meeting of the North–South Ministerial Council was held yesterday afternoon. The Irish transport Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, the Northern Minister for Infrastructure, Ms Nichola Mallon, and the Junior Minister at the Executive Office, Mr. Gordon Lyons, engaged. One of the issues on the agenda was identifying the key issues from a Brexit point of view. That engagement is ongoing.

Does Senator McCallion want to ask another question?

To be fair, I do not want to go over what was discussed under the mandate of the previous committee but I am certainly interested in hearing the relevant information.

The clerk has confirmed to me that he will circulate a briefing note on the main issues covered regarding the legislation.

The only matters that have not been discussed at all are data and data-sharing protocols. On the face of it, there seem to be some issues with sharing data in respect of Covid tracking and tracing.

That was dealt with by officials from the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

Do we not have data? Is it the case that the officials here do not have any but that the committee does?

My question does not relate directly to the Bill. Does Mr. Burke handle licensing issues?

Mr. Eddie Burke

The role I have regarding Brexit is overseeing what is happening around the Department.

Is he specifically dealing with Brexit matters?

Mr. Eddie Burke

Brexit and EU matters.

I will leave it so. While we are rightly addressing those issues that will arise owing to Brexit, there is a considerable backlog of driver licence applications as a result of the pandemic, as Mr. Burke is probably aware. This has significant implications for people awaiting a licence renewal and those who want to sit the test to allow them to take up work or continue to work. Are there any officials present who could give some guidance on this? Are there proposals for a postponement of renewal dates of licences, recognising the resources available?

Mr. Eddie Burke

We can consider that and respond directly through the Chair.

I just wished to flag the matter.

It would be very useful for the officials to do as proposed. There are considerable delays and they are having a damaging impact, particularly on older people. They are accustomed to going to a centre to renew their licences but many of the centres have closed, having already reopened. Applicants are being asked to travel many miles, even outside their counties, to obtain a renewal. This is causing a lot of heartache and uncertainty for them. If there is anything the officials could do to address the issue, we would welcome it as a committee. With the agreement of Senator Dooley, who raised this, I suggest that the committee write to the Road Safety Authority about these issues.

Is the problem compounded if we are trying to get 70,000 people to change over from a UK licence to one that is valid in this State? If we are to have a successful campaign in this regard, and there is already a problem given what we are trying to do regarding Brexit and Covid, should we be asking for additional resources to deal with the matter? What is the protocol for changing over? What process must someone with a UK licence who now lives in this State go through to change over?

Mr. Eddie Burke

I would not be able to go through it with the Senator in detail but I am aware that the information is on the website of the Road Safety Authority. There is a link. The procedure is explained step by step. A driver must return the UK licence and it has to be checked to ensure it is valid in all senses of the word. There is a fee involved. The last I saw, the turnaround time was around ten days. That was probably three weeks ago, maybe four. It is important to note that, of the 70,000 licence holders I mentioned, approximately 55,000 have changed already. That is only an estimate because we have no hard and fast figure. I take the Senator's point that this is another layer on top of an already difficult situation but I have not heard that it is causing problems. The last turnaround time I heard was ten days.

So there are around 15,000 left?

Mr. Eddie Burke

Yes. The advice being given is not to leave the application until the last minute. Changing over now gives one time.

With regard to what has been said, a significant amount of what would fall within the remit of this committee concerns EU competencies. These are obviously being dealt with in negotiations. From listening to the officials, I would imagine that, in many of these circumstances and if we face a worst-case scenario, there will be contingency plans at EU or State level and, in some cases, bilateral agreements. I refer to something that is ready to plug and play given that there will be a great amount of difficulty if we face the absolute disaster scenario that none of us wants to see.

Mr. Eddie Burke

We are very conscious that where there is an EU competency, we must work as one of the member states. We have to be united in the response. The task force is explicitly clear on the implications for Ireland and its dependency on road haulage and aviation connectivity. We will be advocating a contingency regulation, as we did in the lead-up to a potential no-deal Brexit last year. It is critical for us. So far, the Commission has delivered for us.

Mr. Éanna Ó Conghaile

On the bus part, if this comes into play there is a provision whereby we can just make a call and have an arrangement. The status quo continues on the basis of that engagement, and then we have 24 weeks to put in a bilateral arrangement.

I thank all our witnesses for attending today and engaging with the committee members.

We will now adjourn. The next meeting of the joint committee will be on Wednesday, 14 October 2020.

The joint committee adjourned at 3.30 p.m until 11.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 14 October 2020.