Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are related. Amendment No. 1 is consequential on amendment No. 2 and they will be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017: Committee and Remaining Stages
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 5, line 28, to delete “or”.
I thank the Minister, Deputy Ross, for being here. This amendment is a short one pertaining to individuals who have learner permits and protecting also the owner of the vehicle where a vehicle is driven by someone other than the owner, who has a learner permit, with the consent of the owner. The Bill would place some individuals at a disadvantage. I refer to students and persons starting out in life either going to university or in a first job. Two cases with which I am very familiar in my own county concern two widows, both of whom lost their husbands recently. They had never driven before and they live in an isolated part of rural Donegal. They require a car to go to church, mass, the post office or the shops. They got a learner permit and are in the process of applying for their full driver's licence. One of the women has already passed her theory test and is waiting for a date for a test but the delays are anything between 12 and 20 weeks.
If the legislation were to pass, both of those individuals could find themselves in a very difficult position, especially if they were to borrow another person's vehicle. Currently, they can drive legally in another person's vehicle, which they have borrowed having obtained consent, if they are driving accompanied. Following the enactment of the Bill the person who owns such a vehicle would also be guilty of an offence. My intention is to try to provide a level of flexibility until such time as the testing process is faster. I appreciate that there are backlogs in the system for people who are waiting for a driving test. It is only natural that there would be backlogs because there are so many people applying, but nonetheless, there is an anomaly which I believe this amendment would address and provide reassurance to people.
Amendment No. 2 proposes the insertion of paragraph (d) in section 5(2). The proposed wording includes:
(d) it shall be a defence to proceedings for an offence under this section for the driver of a mechanically propelled vehicle to show that they
(i) have taken the requisite number of RSA approved driving lessons' [so they are fulfilling their obligations]
(ii) have taken all reasonable steps to acquire an RSA driving test, and
(iii) are in possession of an NDLS issued Learner Permit.
I am trying to accommodate those people. This is a particular issue in rural areas where many students may have to travel to college and they are learning to drive. Let us take as an example someone driving from Glencolumbkille to Letterkenny IT. It happens on a daily basis that people drive back and forth. They are coming through the system. They have the learner permit and they are waiting for a driving test, but if the Bill were to come into effect in September they would find themselves in great difficulty.
The Bill also puts and extra responsibility on gardaí because they would have to enforce it in small rural areas. The Minister is penalising not only the learner permit holder but also the owner of a mechanically-propelled vehicle because such people are also guilty of an offence under this section. The Bill refers to "where a person, not being that owner, drives the vehicle in a public place at a time". Two people are being penalised - the owner of the vehicle and the learner permit holder in situations where, for example, a parent may give a car to a child who only has a learner permit.
I am not sure what the Minister's thoughts are on the issue and if he is willing to consider accepting the amendment. It is tabled not to be confrontational in any way but to be constructive. This is an issue which I know will impact a lot of people, including the two widows of whom I am aware. There are hundreds of other such people as well. Very often, when people go through the experience of losing a partner, husband or wife and have not driven previously, they are in a situation where they either learn how to drive where there is no public transport or else they depend on taxis, which is very expensive. I have seen many instances where people begin to learn to drive themselves. There are those circumstances in addition to the situation with students. I am interested in hearing the Minister's thoughts on the amendment.
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Ross. I fully support the amendment tabled by my colleague, Senator Ó Domhnaill, who outlined the case very well. I understand the provisions are motivated by tragic circumstances that occurred some time ago and that the Minister reflected upon the representations he received in that regard. I understand why the provisions are in the Bill, but what Senator Ó Domhnaill is seeking is flexibility. He has outlined the case very well to show how a person in a rural area in particular would be affected if somebody has a learner driver permit, who has undertaken specific training that is provided by driving instructors accredited by the Road Safety Authority and the person is deemed competent to drive a car while waiting to sit a test. I understand the waiting times vary in different parts of the country but it ranges from five or six weeks to 25 weeks in some cases. The waiting period will get longer as a result of the huge volume of applications for driving tests. It could be up to 30 weeks. Until such time as that waiting list is reduced to a reasonable time period of four or five weeks it would be sensible to show some flexibility in that regard. All we are asking is that this provision in the Bill would not be enacted until such time as the waiting period has been reduced to a more reasonable level.
If somebody undergoes a test and makes a major mistake, that is all the more reason for the person not to pass the test. However, tests can be failed for very simple technical reasons. If somebody is not successful in a test, he or she should not have to wait another 25 weeks or 30 weeks to take the test again. People should be given another opportunity as soon as possible, having undergone more driving instruction.
They should be given another test within a very reasonable timeframe. This has a very negative impact on rural Ireland in particular. I understand where the Minister is coming from by including it in the Bill. I fully accept that. All we are asking for is a period of time for the Minister to get the driving test sector in order so people can receive a test within a very reasonable timeframe.
I thank the Minister again for coming to the House.
I thank the Minister. He is dead right. This is about safety. I have been asked by a number of people to support this amendment but I cannot. I will tell the House why. In all conscience, it is not right or proper. This is about safety. I have a great friend and colleague who lost not one but two sons in the Minister's constituency on a particular road very near UCD which I do not need to name. What does one say to a person who had two grown-up sons, who were happy and successful at sport and academia when both were tragically killed in traffic accidents outside the door of their home right beside UCD? What does one say to a person who every single day has to talk about the past of her two sons, her wonderful boys? It was about safety. Someone who thought they could drive but could not was in possession of a car in an area where one should only go 30 mph or 40 mph. It is about safety. I cannot support the amendment.
I heard all the messages about people travelling and rural isolation. A councillor and colleague of mine talked about his children in Donegal who wanted to go to Derry. They were waiting for driving tests for months last year and they took the risk because one cannot go from Donegal into Derry and wait with teenagers all day to come back. There are problems there. I have had numerous rows, arguments and debates with the Minister on many issues. One of the issues I first raised when I came in here was the long delays with the RSA and recruiting instructors for driving tests.
The Minister handed me the latest statistics on driving test waiting times. I thank him for those. I will share some statistics with the House. The longest waiting time for cars is 26 weeks in Castlebar, 25 weeks in Cork, 24 weeks in Ennis, 26 weeks in Skibbereen and 21 weeks in Wicklow. The list goes on. We have a problem. We have to get resources in place. People should not have to wait any more than six or eight weeks.
I do not know how to address the issue but I want to support the Minister. I will not support the amendment. I will support this important legislation. The Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017 is long overdue. I read the schedule earlier today. The Bill was initiated on 13 July 2017 and passed through the Dáil on 6 July 2018. There were more than 17 days of debate on the Bill. All these arguments have been gone through before. Initially I thought there was a case to be answered but taking it all on balance, how can we allow a situation where people are in possession of a vehicle when either they do not have the proper authority to have one or have not passed the State driving test that is required of them by law? I do not think we can allow it to happen. We have to send a clear message that it is about road safety. I shared the story about those two people but when it happens to us and one of our loved ones is knocked down and taken from this world suddenly the whole thing changes. We have to get into the mindset and shoes of people who lost their loved ones as a result of inexperienced drivers or people endangering their lives or others in a vehicle. That is really important.
I am delighted this issue is about transport and falls directly into the Minister's portfolio. I am happy to support the Minister fully on this one because it is right. I caution the Minister to address the issue of people who are waiting months, particularly in rural Ireland, to do driving tests. The Minister has a function and role. If he gets his legislation through, he needs to commit to setting guidelines and to having a situation where people can apply for a test and do one within a reasonable period, which I think is about six weeks. If they fail and have to apply again, they should do it within another few weeks. Let us have everyone who wants to drive on the road driving safely.
I will not support the amendment. I will support the legislation.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. Like my colleague, Senator Boyhan, we will not support the amendment although I sympathise with a lot of the sentiment expressed in it in terms of the socioeconomic, geographic, transportation and access issues. There is a very strong argument to be made in the broader sense but it is not for this legislation. It is a fight we will stand with Senators on on another day. Senator Boyhan put it very eloquently when he said the heart of this has to be about road safety. It has to be about protecting citizens and ensuring they are safe. It leaves us vulnerable if we start to create different standards of expectation for people who are going out to operate motor vehicles. I am not even sure how one would roll out the mechanics or implementation of this, who would qualify and who would not. It leaves us open to a moral and practical issue. While I sympathise with the issues expressed around rural Ireland and transportation and connectivity, I do not think it is an issue for today.
In support of the sentiment behind the amendment, what it does is outline clearly the need for us to invest in greater rural transportation connectivity but, as Senator Boyhan outlined, the very clear need is to ensure there are not such delays in waiting times for driving tests. There is a very strong and compelling argument for the Minister to ensure waiting times are reduced for all the reasons expressed by previous speakers. If we succeed in doing that and allocate necessary and worthwhile resources to the legislation and ensure it is properly resourced, we will see those issues overcome in a much more feasible and practical way and, above all else, in a way that ensures greater safety, responsibility and competence on our roads.
The Minister is welcome to the House. As the Minister will recall, I supported the Bill on Second Stage. I support the Bill. I congratulate the Minister on the Bill. It is very important. I agree with much of what my colleague, Senator Boyhan, has to say but I believe this amendment is worthy of support. When we are talking about driving, we are talking about a situation where law has evolved over the years. Fundamentally, there is a balance here between the liberty of citizens to go from one place to another and to make their way using modern means, particularly given the pressurised lives that people live. People have to get to work and young people have to get to college and work. People in more isolated parts of the country have particular needs that people in urban areas might find it more difficult to understand or relate to immediately. All of those are important issues that have to be considered in their own right. It is true that safety is a paramount consideration. Senator Boyhan rightly raised a case with which we can all empathise, a terrible tragedy and fatalities on our roads. It is right he should raise it but it is wrong that our attention should be arrested by such cases in a way that would cause us to cease further considering issues.
I say that out of no lack of sympathy for the people directly involved. It is simply that we live in a world where tragedies happen.
While accepting that we cannot always prevent tragedies from happening, we must do our level best to do so. That is why we have laws. Laws restrict our choices and limit our freedoms to the extent necessary to promote and secure the common good. That is the balance that always has to be struck in law. Laws should be kept to the minimum necessary to protect the vulnerable and secure our safety, always mindful that encroachments on liberty are not, in general, desirable. That is the balance that needs to be struck with law - respecting people's liberty. We have two Houses of Parliament to consider legislation thoroughly so that it neither falls short of the good that is to be achieved nor goes too far to the point where it restricts people's liberties in a way that is unacceptable or unfair.
When I commended the Minister in the context of the Bill last week, I commended, in particular, his focus on the need for consistency and on the need for us to get serious with the problem of drink-driving. That has been the primary focus of this legislation. As I understand it, that is why the Bill was so long before the Lower House. It is interesting that the digest on the Bill supplied by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service is almost completely taken up with the drink-driving dimensions. That leads me to wonder if the same level of consideration has been given to the merits of the other aspects of the Bill we are discussing, such as people with learner permits driving unaccompanied.
Does the Minister have the statistics and analysis to be satisfied that, all things considered, the particular measure, unamended, is really necessary to save lives? My Sinn Féin colleague commended Senator Ó Domhnaill. There is good sense and good intent behind the amendment. It seeks not to create some kind of free-for-all on the roads, but a defence to proceedings relating to an offence under this section. It is where a person has taken the requisite number of approved driving lessons, has taken all reasonable steps to acquire a driving test and is in possession of an NDLS-issued learner permit.
We are talking about checks and balances. Senator Ó Domhnaill is not advocating some kind of free-for-all. He is advocating a reasonable restriction on prosecution where some other kind of social good is being served by a person being able to be on the road notwithstanding that they have not yet passed a test but provided that they have applied for a test and so on, subject to the other conditions. I do not really mind if the Minister wants to add to or subtract from those conditions in some way in order to reassure himself and the rest of us that there is not an unacceptable compromise in the context of public safety. The social good underlying this amendment should be acknowledged. A balance should be struck here. This is a very different question from that of introducing automatic suspension where people are driving over the permitted blood-alcohol limit; that is a horse of a different colour. We could do an injustice to Senator Ó Domhnaill's amendment simply because it is amending legislation that deals with something of such profound importance as the problem of combatting drink-driving in our society.
I ask the Minister to consider the amendment. I will support it on the basis that I believe it is not reckless or something that will compromise people's lives and safety. It is a sad fact that we have road accidents involving people who have not been drinking and who are in possession of driving licences, car insurance and all the rest of it. Experienced drivers end up having road accidents and tragedies occur on our roads. That is not a reason to ban driving. We are on a spectrum here.
What Senator Ó Domhnaill is trying to achieve with this amendment merits support. It is not about supporting people who do not care whether they have a driver's licence or who are seeking to drive recklessly without regard for the law. It is about recognising that there are serious delays in getting a driving test. In such cases the driving public, particularly people in rural areas and young people who are taking this process seriously, who are taking their lessons and who have applied for a test ought to be facilitated. There is an injustice in creating an offence in the way that will happen if this amendment is not accepted. I ask the Minister to accept the amendment. I will certainly support it.
I support Senator Ó Domhnaill's amendment. The House is being constructive on this. The Minister was involved in a lot of unconstructive debate in the Lower House, but we have heard here some heartfelt points. As Senator Boyhan mentioned, people in many areas are waiting 26 weeks for a test. Somebody who unfortunately fails a test after 26 weeks may have to wait a further 26 weeks before getting another opportunity. That is a whole year before somebody would be able to drive unaccompanied.
It would certainly help to tighten up this area. It is not a spurious claim. We are not trying to create devilment; it is a genuine concern. In my area, a chap on an apprenticeship who was aware of the amendment contacted me. He has a learner permit and is waiting to get to sit his test. If he fails, he could have inconvenience for up to a year before getting a full licence. In this case, what is he going to do? Will he have to travel by bike? He is certainly more likely to be involved in some kind of accident when travelling by bike or walking. I ask the Minister to give the amendment serious consideration.
It is worth homing in on the issue. I do not doubt the intent of any of the contributors so far. It is an important discussion to have. For me, the issue becomes very black and white. I am conscious that there are people in the Gallery who have lost loved ones. None of us wants to see tragedy or accidents on our roads. However, we need to make a call on the issue. We need to set a certain standard and a certain expectation.
While there is a list of things that people may have obtained that would be included in this amendment, what they do not have is the passing of the driving test. That has to be the bare minimum. It must be the standard that we come to expect of drivers, otherwise we will leave ourselves very vulnerable and open if, God forbid, an accident or a tragedy occurs on our roads. I think we have to reflect on that when we are seeking to put this legislation through.
I do not doubt that colleagues are sincere in their efforts to get this amendment through.
We could channel our collective political will to address the broader societal issues of delays in accessing driving tests and the lack of proper public transportation in our rural communities in a much better way than simply saying that there will be a lesser standard or lesser redress should it come to pass that somebody breaks the law, commits an offence and somebody is hurt or loses his or her life. We are leaving ourselves very vulnerable and setting a precedent that is not right.
As stated on Second Stage, I wish this Bill a speedy passage in order that the President can sign it. I also mentioned the fantastic work the families have done by supporting the Minister in bringing the legislation forward. I hope there will be additional resources for people applying for their driver licences. Other Senators have raised that and it must be addressed. The day when people thought it was acceptable to drive with drink taken, even one glass, is long gone. It is better not to touch alcohol at all if one is driving. Looking at the statistics for the last six months there is a worrying trend in the number of deaths on our roads. Some 70% of them have been young people. It emphasises the importance of this legislation.
On my behalf and on that of the other Labour Party Senators, I apologise to the families who had to sit through the filibustering that occurred in the Lower House. It was disgraceful that they had to sit through that knowing that the legislation will save lives. I am aware of the sheer annoyance they must have experienced. I hope there is a speedy process this afternoon and, hopefully, the Bill will wing its way to the President for signature so it can be enforced later in the summer.
I sincerely thank the Senators for their contributions, both today and on Second Stage. This has been a serious, mature, considered and worthwhile debate. I cannot say the same for the Lower House, as has been mentioned here. We managed to thrash out some of the more important arguments here in a serious and reasoned way and we have been able to take points of view on board in a tranquil and unhysterical atmosphere.
Senator Humphreys put his finger on it - we are nowhere near winning this battle against deaths on the roads. Today, the numbers are up four on last year despite the enormous measures being taken. There are many reasons given for that, including the fact that there is more traffic on the roads, but the figure of four more than last year is utterly unacceptable. We have no cause for satisfaction. That is the motivation behind this Bill and behind the support for the Bill. It is the motivation of the families in the Visitors Gallery, who are here to ensure that what happened to them will never happen to anybody else. That is a noble calling, and many Senators referred to it. This Bill would not have got so far without those families pursuing it to what, I hope, will be the end tonight.
I will not accept Senator Ó Domhnaill's amendment but I thank him for introducing it. I sympathise with it in many ways because the motivation behind it is genuine. He and Senator Wilson made similar comments, obviously articulating the real worries in rural Ireland about the effects of this amendment and the difficulties that people there have. However, as Senator Ó Donnghaile stated, we must have a measure. We cannot make exceptions for people when they are not safe on the roads or let them through for any reason. They are driving a killer vehicle. That is the reason I cannot accept the amendment, despite the fact that I know the reasons behind it perfectly well. The driver testing presents a problem which I have to address, and I will address it in response to this amendment from Senator Ó Domhnaill. We are addressing it, although not fast enough for the Senator or for me. I am certainly on the Senator's side on this but I do not see the logic of being on his side to such an extent that I make the roads unsafe for innocent people. I cannot take the extra step he is asking me to take, although I accept the reason he has given as to why I should.
Today, in a measured way, the Senator brought that argument further into prominence. It was raised by Senator Boyhan previously and by Members of the Lower House. Quite honestly, in the last half hour or so we have seen a better case made by Senator Ó Domhnaill and the other Members who supported what is proposed than was made in six months in the other House, where the Members temporarily ruined the case they were making for improving the number of driver testers and reducing the waiting lists. When there is the type of histrionic behaviour that occurred there the argument gets lost. I thank the Senator for bringing the argument back centre stage. While I will not accept the amendment, I am going to address the problems he raised and which are accepted by all sides of the House.
I thank Senator Boyhan for his support. I must say I am sorry I gave him that piece of paper when I came here as he used it immediately to beat me.
That was to assist me in assisting the Minister.
That is fair enough. The Senator provided some examples which highlight the difficulties that exist. He quoted the longest waiting time in every case, and I do not blame him for that because it is the rhetoric of the argument. However, the average waiting time is under half what he quoted at 12.4 weeks. It is decreasing, but not fast enough for anybody. It would be far more acceptable if it was down to single digits. That is our objective and I hope the measures the RSA is introducing will do that. There is a danger, as one Senator mentioned, that there would be a balloon or spike when this measure goes through if people are seeking to pass their tests in a hurry, but we will see.
I thank Senator Davitt. What he said was constructive. I do not agree with his view on it but, again, he is articulating something which should be said. Senator Mullen, too, in a cerebral way, introduced the social difficulties which some measures bring to rural Ireland. We have addressed that in a concrete way already by introducing the Local Link buses. That is a pilot scheme that has been introduced in 17 counties. It is not a panacea, it is a pilot. We will examine it after three months by getting an interim report and after six months we will see where changes should be made and whether or how it is successful. The anecdotal evidence coming to my office is that the pilot scheme is certainly revealing a huge pent-up demand, and satisfying it in some cases, for people to go out at night and get back home. It is not just about going to the pubs. A gap is being filled. It is about people playing bingo, going to dances and just making social visits.
It is also about people going to pubs and back. Certainly, there appears to be a major appetite for it and there has been a good response in the areas where I have heard about it. Five local areas did not apply in the original round but since then they have all applied for the type of Local Link bus at night and in later evenings. We will find that it is doing a service. Certainly, it is experimental but it will be continued if it is working, and the evidence is that it is working.
I cannot accept the amendment from the Independent Senator Ó Domhnaill because I cannot accept the principles behind it. I have some difficulty with the wording as well. First, I will explain the problem with the principle. It is illegal for learners to drive without a qualified accompanying driver. This has been illegal since 2007. The reason is clear: driving is a serious responsibility and we do not let people drive unaccompanied until they can prove via a driver test that they are sufficiently competent to do so. If anyone can find a better way of proving it, then let them come forward. This is in the interests of the learners as well as other road users.
I have heard the suggestion several times during the passage of the Bill that we should somehow go softer on this ruling in cases where people have had trouble getting an early driver test. I have said before that I am not satisfied with the delays that people can face in getting a test. The Road Safety Authority has a target of an average of ten weeks for the waiting time. Earlier this year, the average was approximately 14 weeks and it is now down a little to 12.4 weeks. That is not enough but it is on a downward trend. Admittedly, 14 weeks is still 40% longer than the target. The latest figures, as of this week, indicate an average wait of 12.4 weeks.
There is a downward trend and the RSA is working to speed this up. Additional tests are being provided by existing testers and new testers are being recruited. There is also authorisation for further testers to deal with any surge in applications if, as some suspect, there will be a surge after the passage of this Bill.
None of this justifies people breaking the law by engaging in the highly risky behaviour of driving as unaccompanied learners. Too often, people seem to think that a learner permit is a licence. I hear people asking how learners are to get to college or to work if there is action taken to stop unaccompanied learners. I am sorry, but the law is clear here. The answer is that they are not supposed to act illegally by driving unaccompanied and putting themselves and other road users at risk. A learner permit is a permit to drive for the purposes of learning and no more. It is not a licence to drive freely on our roads and it should never be treated as if it was.
Senator Ó Domhnaill is proposing an amendment to the provision known as the Clancy amendment. It gets its name because of the tragic case of a mother and daughter, Geraldine and Louise Clancy, who were killed in December 2015 when their car was hit by a car driven by an unaccompanied learner. The substance of the Clancy amendment is that owners of vehicles who let unaccompanied drivers drive their vehicles should bear a share of responsibility.
Senator Ó Domhnaill's proposal would mean that the owner would get off if the learner doing the unaccompanied driving had completed the mandatory 12 lessons and had taken reasonable steps to obtain a driving test. If we accepted this, we would in effect be saying that there is a principle in law, but that it would be all right to break it if these criteria were met.
In the case of the Clancys, the driver who caused the collision admitted that she took a bend at too high a speed and lost control of the vehicle. I have no idea whether she had taken 12 lessons or had a booking for a test, but how would it be relevant in a case like this if she had? Are we to say that in future the responsibility of owners who facilitate illegal unaccompanied driving will be void simply because the driver has had some lessons and tried to get a driving test?
I have no doubt that some learners are good drivers. Likewise, I have no doubt that some learners are not. The only way we can be sure is by testing them. Until then, we can hardly take the fact that they have done lessons and applied for a test as proof that they are fit to drive unaccompanied. On principle, I cannot accept that we should go soft on people who break the law.
I mentioned that I have a difficulty with the wording of the amendment. I will be brief about it. The section into which this amendment would be inserted relates to owners allowing their vehicles to be driven by unaccompanied learners or by unlicensed drivers. The criteria in the amendment that would allow people to get off include not only the driver having taken the requisite lessons and reasonable steps to obtain a driving test, but also the driver holding a learner permit issued by the National Driver Licence Service. It is proposed that this be inserted in a section under which an owner of a vehicle will face charges if he allows an unaccompanied learner or an unlicensed driver to drive his vehicle. Whether Senator Ó Domhnaill intends it, his amendment would apply to both of these cases because he refers to it being a defence to an offence under the section. I note that the person would have to have a learner permit but not necessarily a currently valid learner permit. This is a crucial flaw. If the Senator means his amendment to apply to unaccompanied learner cases only, then a reference to a learner permit is redundant. As framed, however, it would mean that if a person was unlicensed but had an out-of-date learner permit and met the other criteria, then the owner would be let off. This might apply if the driver had done the lessons at some point and had tried at some point to get a driving test. I do not believe this is what Senator Ó Domhnaill intends but would actually be the effect of the amendment.
In summary, I cannot on principle accept an amendment that would write into the law that we did not much mind if learners drove unaccompanied so long as they had taken their lessons and tried to get a test. If the House was minded to do this, I would have to point out that the amendment before us today is a seriously flawed way to do it.
Therefore, I call on the Senator to consider withdrawing the amendment. In doing so, I wish to recognise the seriousness with which the House is taking the amendment and the Bill as well as the serious way it is being debated. It has highlighted several issues. I give absolutely no ground whatsoever on the principles of road safety, on ridding us of the scourge of drink driving or on the principles enunciated today. I recognise that this Bill is a fine one and I am sure it will save lives. However, I recognise that it has thrown up problems and has managed to allow people to highlight problems that exist in a responsible way. These are problems we are determined to address. I thank Senator Ó Domhnaill for bringing forward the amendment.
I thank the Minister. One thing is for certain, and I want to thank all the contributors, including those who are supportive of, and those who may not find their way to support, the amendment, I respect all the views because we live in a democracy and it is important in a Chamber such as this that we would have a reflective debate on all issues, including this particular Bill. The Bill is well-drafted, well-meaning and well-established. I thank the Minister for his contribution. Of course he is no stranger to this House having spent one or two years here during the course of his political career.
I thank the Minister also for other work that he is doing to improve the safety of our roads. That work sometimes goes unnoticed but it includes the funding he is providing throughout the State, not only in one or two areas, to improve our road network. That is welcome and I thank him for that.
I appreciate fully that the Minister cannot accept the amendment. Of course, the purpose behind the amendment is one of trying to be constructive. I am not questioning any other element of the Bill save for this particular area, which would appear to be a great cause of concern where there is a lack of public transport in rural parts of the country. I thank the Minister for his constructive approach. I appreciate what the Minister is trying to achieve not only through this Bill but across other public policy areas within Government where he is challenging vested interests. That is welcome.
Amendment No. 2 has already been discussed with amendment No. 1.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 5, line 33, to delete “2006.” and substitute the following:
(d) it shall be a defence to proceedings for an offence under this section for the driver of a mechanically propelled vehicle to show that they—
(i) have taken the requisite number of RSA approved driving lessons,
(ii) have taken all reasonable steps to acquire an RSA driving test, and
(iii) are in possession of an NDLS issued Learner Permit.”.
Will the Senators claiming a division please rise?
As fewer than five Members have risen, I declare the amendment lost. In accordance with Standing Order 61, the names of the Senators dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Seanad.
When is it proposed to take Final Stage?
The Minister was not here. You are not entitled to bring the Bill through unless the Minister is here. You are not in order.
I would be obliged if the Senator would please shut up and resume his seat.
It is unmannerly of you to say that.
You are out of order. You came in here and you are speaking-----
I want to raise section 6.
You were not here to raise it.
You were not entitled to call the Bill before the Minister came in. It is totally illegal. If the Chair does not respect Members-----
On a point of order-----
You can speak on Report Stage.
I am speaking on section 6.
On a point of order, the Senator is raising his voice to the Leas-Chathaoirleach, which is uncalled for. The Minister was on his way in to the Chamber. With all due respect, could the Leas-Chathaoirleach read it out again? I know the Senator may be anxious to represent the point of view of the vintners' association on this but most of this House wants to pass this Bill as quickly as possible.
To clarify, we were having a discussion regarding section 6 outside and we were delayed coming in. In fairness, the Leas-Chathaoirleach should not have allowed discussion to take place.
This is our last day here. In the interests of that, if it pleases you, we will address section 6.
I wish to speak about section 6.
What do you want to say?
I welcome the Minister to the House. As a part owner of a rural pub, the Castlecoote Lodge-----
Will Members, please, restrain themselves? I am inhibited from going into this Bill in great detail because I am aware of-----
We are on section 6.
I am trying to explain why I am talking about section 6. I am aware of the situation and the fact that your motivation will be questioned in this regard. The section says that the Act comes into operation on such day or days as the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport will decide. What it says is-----
I hate to interrupt the Senator but does he understand that section 6 is simply referring to the Short Title? It does not allow for a broader debate.
Yes, Short Title, commencement, collective citation and construction and in that, the Minister has an implementation date. I was a Minister myself. The Minister will decide when the sections of the Bill will come into force. I commend the Minister on the provision of the rural transport scheme, the pilot scheme, which he has brought forward at 17 locations. I am suggesting that to combat rural isolation, this scheme be studied and extended to other areas so that people can get together and ask how it can work. I am asking the Minister to provide this scheme so that the groups of publicans in rural areas could come together and decide the strategy for implementing this scheme to provide transport to and from rural pubs, which will be affected by the legislation. From my observations, I see so many people bringing their families to and from places of entertainment so there is a very real understanding of that. I see it at first hand. I commend those people who provide that service for families, neighbours and friends, so there is a realisation of the situation.
Will the Minister extend the scheme to areas like County Roscommon and does he have any responsibility in that regard? Will he allow a bit of time for it? As he said, it is a pilot scheme that will be reviewed in three months and six months. He should give people an opportunity to work through this. For example, it could involve the purchase of a minibus less registration tax or some scheme that will assist in this regard. That is all I want to say on this section. In fairness, we were delayed coming in.
We have moved on.
Just in case there is any misunderstanding of my position relating to this, I very much welcome the Minister's pilot scheme for rural transport. I hope that, after he reviews it, he may be in a position to extend it and make good connections not only for rural pubs but for the local GAA team and all the points he outlined in the earlier debate. That the Minister delays the implementation of this Bill is the intention of the Senator. I urge the Minister not to do this but to sign it as quickly as possible because the facts show that the loss of life is far greater in rural Ireland than it is in our cities. The purpose of this Bill is to protect people in rural Ireland. If we look at the likes of Donegal, we can see it has a huge impact in terms of the loss of life. I believe the Bill will be passed today and I believe it will be signed by the President. The Minister should certainly not delay in implementing the legislation because implementing legislation to save lives is what we are about in this House.
Would the Minister like to say a brief word?
I thank Senator Humphreys. I have no intention of delaying the implementation of this Bill. It has been delayed long enough. It has been delayed unnecessarily and we will expedite it as quickly as possible.
Senator Leyden is right and wrong. In my comments on the amendment, I said that five out of 17 local areas - do not crucify me if I am wrong - did not apply for the first round of the rural transport scheme. I think Roscommon was among those areas. It was probably for no reason; it was very short notice. There might have been perfectly understandable reasons. They were not in the first round of allocations. Since then, every single local scheme that did not apply for its own reasons has applied, so if Roscommon has applied, which it must have done or Local Link for Roscommon must have applied, it will now be on the list for inclusion.
In response to Senators Humphreys and Leyden, this is a pilot scheme. It is not written in stone that the routes being used at the moment will be there forever. My clear intention is that if it is seen to be working, and I think the initial indications are that it is getting a very good response, it should be expanded because we recognise, as I said a few minutes ago, that one of the issues thrown up by this Bill is rural isolation. There is no doubt that social isolation is there in Roscommon and elsewhere and we recognise that it must be addressed. That is what the pilot scheme is about. I see this as something that will be extended if it works and is used because it is meeting the needs of people throughout rural Ireland. I thank the Senator for his intervention. It is useful in respect of this issue because it gives us an opportunity to discuss it and for the Senator to come back and say where it is and is not working. Once the pilot is over, which is some time in December, we will look at it to change the routes or times, if necessary, and extend it or reduce it in certain areas. That is what it is about. If Roscommon has not yet been addressed, it will be.
When is it proposed to sit again?
At 2.30 p.m. on 19 September 2018.