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Road Safety Strategy

Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 27 June 2013

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Questions (7)

Clare Daly

Question:

7. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the meetings he has had with the Road Safety Authority in recent months to deal with its key concerns and the actions he proposes to take in relation to same. [30905/13]

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Oral answers (13 contributions) (Question to Transport)

This question relates to meetings with the Road Safety Authority. In recent months, I have met with the board of the Road Safety Authority and, separately, with the chairman and chief executive at meetings and conferences, including today. Our discussions centred on road safety in general, the progress being made on measures that have been introduced and the initiatives required further to improve the country's road safety performance. At the end of March this year, I launched the road safety strategy for the period 2013 to 2020. The strategy, which was drafted by the RSA in consultation with all other relevant stakeholders, sets out the initiatives and actions required in the next seven years to place Ireland on a par with the best performing countries in the EU in terms of road safety. I will meet regularly with the stakeholders group to ensure implementation of the actions in the strategy.

Our road safety record in recent years has been very good. The number of road fatalities has decreased year on year over the past seven years. In 2012, we had the lowest number of fatalities, at 162, since records began. Many factors have contributed to this improvement in performance but the establishment of the RSA and the interaction it has conducted with other stakeholders has been key. My Department and I will continue to have regular contact with the RSA to keep up to date on developments in road safety.

I call Deputy Wallace.

On a point of order, surely the person who put down the question should be here to address it as a matter of respect.

That is not correct. Look at Standing Orders.

No. I was informed by Deputy Wallace that he was taking the question for Deputy Daly.

The Minister will be aware that the Road Safety Authority expressed an interest in an independent public inquiry into the termination of fixed charge notices. He will also be aware of some of the points that were raised by Members on this side in reaction to the report. We pointed out the lack of natural justice. The report offends against the rule against bias because the Garda investigated itself. The principle of audi alteram partem was not adhered to as whistleblowers were not interviewed. The legality of the system is certainly in question and the opinion of an independent senior counsel is required. I am surprised the Minister for Justice and Equality did not seek one. The internal review was based on a manual audit only, which facilitated retro-fitting. Notwithstanding same, 40% of samples in the dossier turned out to be improper.

The findings have implications for the integrity, effectiveness and fairness of the entire penalty points system and the consistency and uniformity of the application of the rule of law in the State. It will be difficult to restore public confidence in the process without an independent public inquiry. Does the Minister agree that it will require such an inquiry to restore confidence in the system?

The report on penalty points has been published. The RSA has expressed the view that it would like the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission to examine it. I have already given my views on that and do not wish to repeat them here today. The report is going to the Garda Inspectorate and the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality for its consideration. Those are the appropriate first steps. The Garda Inspectorate will look at the processes involved and make recommendations as to whether the new processes being proposed are adequate. The joint committee is also considering the preparation of its own report. It is up to the committee to decide if it wishes to hold hearings and pursue the matter further.

There is not much point in the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission looking at the report, although an investigation by it in the first place would definitely have been interesting. The Minister may remember that the commission was very critical of how the Kieran Boylan case was handled. Suppose it had been the other way around with the Garda investigating the Boylan case itself and the commission investigating the termination of fixed charge notices. Does the Minister imagine that we would have seen two different results?

On the last occasion of ministerial questions on transport, I raised this issue. I also raised it at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications. I am sure Deputy Dooley would not accuse me of filibustering in the slightest.

I thank Deputy Dooley.

The Minister stated that last year and the previous year the number of road fatalities had fallen, but an issue that has come up on a number of occasions is the number of serious injuries. I asked previously if, in the Road Safety Authority's annual statistics, the authority could, in addition, examine the reporting of different categories of injury, because that would give a truer picture of what is happening with regard to road safety. If one talks to any consultant or anybody working with those who have sustained serious injuries following collisions or road traffic accidents, one might get a different picture from the one that covers only road fatalities. While 152 is still exceptionally high - too high - I expect that the figure for those with serious injuries and those who are left in a critical condition is probably much higher. It is important to get a truer picture of road safety by including the figures on serious injuries as well.

In the Minister's contacts with the Road Safety Authority, has the authority at any time raised concerns about the level of or the potential for a drop in enforcement by the Garda due to the reduction in the number of gardaí because of Government decisions that have been taken?

To update Deputy Wallace, the current state of play is that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, has asked the Road Safety Authority and my Department to write to him with our views on the report that has been published and also our suggestions as to how the penalty points system can be made more robust. That letter has since issued to the Minister, Deputy Shatter, and we are in the process of arranging a meeting involving him and his officials, me and my officials, and the RSA to make further progress on the matter.

On Deputy O'Donovan's question, the new strategy published a few weeks ago does not deal only with road deaths. It now, for the first time, deals with serious injuries as well and sets a specific target to reduce the number of serious injuries by 30% during the term of the strategy. There has been some disagreement over the definition of a serious life-changing injury, but that has now been agreed. Approximately 420 serious life-changing injuries occurred last year in addition to approximately 160 deaths. The number of people who experienced life-changing injuries is more than double the number who died on the roads. The new strategy takes that into account and aims to reduce that number as well. It is a major step forward in terms of how we deal with road safety.

The RSA is always concerned about enforcement. The authority has its own contacts with the Garda, separate from me. The Garda assures me that enforcement is at similar levels to what it was in the past. It is not only the Garda Traffic Corps that carries out road traffic enforcement. All gardaí can enforce the Road Traffic Acts. There is a public perception that enforcement has been reduced, and that in itself is a problem. That is why I have asked the Garda to step up the visibility of its checkpoints, and the RSA is running radio advertisements, which Members may have heard, letting motorists know exactly how many drivers have been stopped and breathalysed and had fixed-charge notices imposed on them on a weekly basis.

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