Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Questions (68)

Maureen O'Sullivan


68. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his views as to whether the laws relating to horse-drawn vehicles and-or carriages are in need of review and strengthening. [45523/18]

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Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Transport)

My question to the Minister relates to horse-drawn carriages and vehicles and whether the laws relating to them are in need of review and strengthening.

I thank Deputy O'Sullivan. As she may be aware, some local authorities develop by-laws to license horse-drawn carriages operating commercially. Through by-laws, these local authorities set their own rules and stipulations to govern such operations. It is under Part 19 of the Local Government Act 2001 that local authorities are provided with the power to make by-laws.

In most counties there seems to have been little demand and by-laws are not in place, while in other areas the matter is more relevant. For example, in Kerry, where there is a long tradition of jarvey operation, by-laws have been adopted to regulate the operation of these horse-drawn hackney carriages. Dublin City Council also made by-laws in 2011 for the same purpose and under the same legislative provisions. My Department has very recently had sight of a note prepared by the Dublin City Council law agent which gives the view that the city council has no legal basis on which to make such by-laws and indicates that such powers may rest instead, under the Dublin Carriage Acts 1853 to 1855, inclusive, with the Commissioners of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, to which the Garda is the successor.

While I am currently of the view that these matters should normally be managed at local government level, I will now ensure that this matter is given due consideration by my Department. I will task the Department with engaging with relevant stakeholders, including An Garda Síochána and Dublin City Council, and to seek separate legal advice if this is deemed necessary. Depending on the outcome, there may be a requirement to amend or repeal legislation to ensure an appropriate, modern regulatory framework is in place.

I believe the Deputy's concerns may relate in particular to animal welfare issues. As she may know, the Animal Welfare Act 2013 provides powers to gardaí and authorised officers to deal with issues of animal welfare. The animal welfare legislation comes within the ambit of my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

As the Deputy knows, during consideration of the Road Traffic Bill 2016, Dáil Éireann accepted an amendment proposed by Deputy Munster to provide for the regulation of certain passenger transporters, including rickshaws and horse-drawn carriages. The amendment was passed and became section 31 of the Road Traffic Act 2016.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

I subsequently took legal advice on the implications of Deputy Munster's amendment prior to commencing those provisions. Following receipt of this advice, I decided not to commence section 31. The legal risk associated with the provision was deemed unacceptably high, with a strong likelihood that any regulations made under the provisions could be challenged and ultimately struck down.

I thank the Minister. I know my question related to reviewing and strengthening the by-laws but I realised when I looked at the matter that there are not many regulations in place in respect of this industry. Like the Minister, I saw the Dublin Carriage Acts 1853 to 1855, inclusive, leading to the Dublin Carriage Bye-Laws 1946 and then a Road Traffic Act in 1961, which states that "regulations [may be made] in relation to the use of vehicles in public places". Then, in 2012, the Road Safety Authority amended the definition of "vehicles" to include animal-drawn vehicles. Then we come to the Road Traffic Act 2016, which states that the National Transport Authority, NTA, may make regulations under the Taxi Regulation Act 2013 in respect of horse-propelled hackney carriages. The Minister mentioned section 31, but that has not yet commenced. From what I have been reading, there appears to be a big gap here and it comes from concerns over animal welfare. I know there are owners who look after their horses very well, but there is no doubt but that there are concerns. Could the Minister consider an amendment to cover this issue as part of his deliberations regarding legislation on rickshaws?

I do not want to make any promises on that because this has taken me by surprise. I do not want suddenly to make the mistake Deputy Munster made, which was to put a wrong amendment in a wrong Act, as a result of which it was legally questionable. I will, however, look at the possibility of a repeal. This document has taken my Department and me very much by surprise. I think it was only drawn to our attention last week. We will bring together the stakeholders to consider the matter. The key points, which should be put on the record, are that some local authorities develop by-laws to license horse-drawn carriages operating commercially under Part 19 of the Local Government Act 2001. However, by-laws may not be made under the 2001 Act where powers exist elsewhere in legislation, which is, I believe, the position in this case. Since 2011, Dublin City Council has made by-laws under the 2001 Act to allow licensing of horse-drawn carriages and, in doing so, took over those functions from the Garda in the Dublin city area. In the past, the Garda licensed horse-drawn carriages in Dublin under the Dublin Carriage Acts 1853 to 1855, inclusive. As the Deputy will know, it has now come to light that these powers under these Victorian Acts still exist.

The Minister has significantly exceeded the allocated time.

I very much welcome that the Minister will have a consultation on this and engage with the relevant stakeholders. I ask that the animal welfare groups, particularly those that are engaged with horse welfare, also be invited to attend and give their views on this. It seems to be one of those areas that fall between a number of groups. The NTA has some responsibility, the local authority has some responsibility, and now there is the Government. I do not want to see the kind of bouncing of the ball there was between the local authority and the Government over rickshaws happen in this case. As the Minister said, we have now drawn attention to the fact that whereas the local authority may issue licences, there are other aspects besides licences that need to be looked at. I hope we can start this engagement sooner rather than later.

Dublin City Council has told my Department how this came about. It had legal advice that it was legal and appropriate for it to make these by-laws but during a review of the 2011 by-laws, the council's law agent provided legal advice that since the 19th century Dublin Carriages Acts had not been repealed, there was no legal basis for the council to make by-laws for horse-drawn carriages. I will ensure that this matter is given due consideration, including further engagement with An Garda Síochána, Dublin City Council and others mentioned by the Deputy and the seeking of separate legal advice if that is deemed necessary. Depending on the outcome, there may be a requirement to amend or repeal legislation, upon which we will act if necessary. It should be said that it seems clear that the council acted in good faith when it made its by-laws in 2011. Following legal advice, it has very recently raised the matter formally with my Department. I will ensure that the matter is given due consideration.

If Deputy O'Sullivan is satisfied, we will move to the next question, in the name of Deputy Catherine Martin, to be taken by Deputy Eamon Ryan.