Irish Aviation Authority

Questions (122, 123, 124, 125)

Maurice Quinlivan

Question:

122. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Transport the background and the processes involved regarding the recent appointment of a person (details supplied) as interim chairman of the Irish Aviation Authority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6519/21]

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Maurice Quinlivan

Question:

123. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Transport the person or body involved in lobbying or making recommendations for a post to be filled by a person (details supplied); the dates and the involvement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6520/21]

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Maurice Quinlivan

Question:

124. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Transport the reason the Public Appointments Service was bypassed in this instance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6521/21]

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Maurice Quinlivan

Question:

125. Deputy Maurice Quinlivan asked the Minister for Transport the details of any communications between a person (details supplied) and any departmental official or Government party member of the Houses of the Oireachtas in relation to the Irish Aviation Authority prior to the official notification of the appointment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6522/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 122 to 125, inclusive, together.

Ms Rose Hynes has been appointed to act as Chairperson of the IAA on an interim basis. Ms Hynes was appointed, with the agreement of the Government, to help guide the IAA through a key period in a regulatory reform process that will result in significant institutional changes. There are some important strategic and business decision to be taken in the early part of this year in order to prepare the ground for this, and I was unwilling to risk leaving a vacancy at the top of the Company which would in any way jeopardise progress. The Deputy will note that the Air Navigation and Transport Bill passed Second Stage in the Dáil last week, and he will recognise from that Bill that there is serious preparatory work to be done.

This regulatory reform initiative, which was sanctioned by Government in September 2017, will ensure that Irish aviation will be served by an internationally best practice regulatory regime as it recovers post-Covid and post-Brexit. Ms Hynes’ experience in aviation alongside her background in leading other State agency restructuring programmes was a key reason for her appointment as interim Chair while the Company undergoes these important institutional reforms.

I fully intend to initiate a formal recruitment process under the State Boards Appointment guidelines later in the year to coincide with the passing of the Air Navigation and Transport Bill. At this point, formal processes will be put in place to recruit a permanent Chair and Board members for the newly established IAA and also a Chair and Board members for the new commercial air navigation company, which will be established as a result of the institutional reforms.

Driver Test

Questions (126)

Seán Canney

Question:

126. Deputy Seán Canney asked the Minister for Transport if he is satisfied with the level of service being provided by the RSA to learner drivers and those seeking to renew licences during the current pandemic; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that learner drivers who booked their test in June 2020 still do not have a test date; if his attention has been further drawn to the fact that learner drivers are regularly on hold for 90 minutes trying to get through to the RSA; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that emails are not being responded to and that booking systems are repeatedly coming up with errors which are not being rectified; if his attention has been further drawn to the stress and difficulty caused learning drivers nationwide (details supplied); if his attention has been further drawn to the particular difficulty that this is causing young rural dwellers who have no access to public transport; his plans to rectify the situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6537/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

My Department is in constant contact with the Road Safety Authority since the start of the pandemic regarding all of its services, the impact of Covid-19 on those services, and how they can best be maintained in the current circumstances.

Due to suspension of driver testing services in the initial pandemic response, along with the health protocols required since the resumption of services, a significant backlog has developed. During Level 5, driving tests are only available to those involved in essential services.

Sanction has recently been provided to hire 40 additional temporary driver testers, along with 36 approved for retention or rehire in 2020. The position will be kept under review when services resume.

These measures will help to increase testing capacity. However, I would like to stress, that many of the issues impacting on the delivery of service are concerned with the throughput of centres themselves in light of the restrictions, rather than on the availability of staff.

The RSA are also looking at a number of other measures, including whether the number of tests a driver tester can perform each day can be increased when restrictions ease, subject to health assurances.

I am aware that the RSA has experienced a number of operating issues since the launch of their new customer portal and officials in my Department have raised these issues with the RSA. We have been reassured by the Authority, these technical issues are gradually being resolved. Performance improvements have recently been implemented meaning customers can now access the portal without any undue delays. Delays in contacting the customer care call centre have also been addressed and waiting times are slowly improving.

The RSA will continue to give priority to addressing the remaining issues as they seek to improve the overall portal performance and restore the service to the highest possible standards. I am assured that the measures being put in place will have the desired effect. My Department will continue to monitor the situation and we thank the Deputy and others for bringing these matter to our attention.

With regard to renewing driver licences, possible further extensions of driving licences are currently under consideration at EU level. A decision on this issue is expected shortly.

The Road Safety Authority (RSA), through the National Driver Licence Service (NDLS), has expanded the online facility to accommodate all driving licence and learner permit applications to enable accessibility online rather than by calling to an office. A verified MyGovID account, which requires a Public Services Card, is needed to access the online system.

All persons of 70 years of age and over are now invited to renew their driving licence or learner permit by post. Applicants will be contacted directly by the National Driver Licence Service (NDLS). Previously only those aged 70 and over who renew their licence on a yearly basis could avail of this service.

Driver Licences

Questions (127)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

127. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Transport the status of a driver licence renewal application by a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6544/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

This is an operational matter for the Road Safety Authority. I have referred the question to the Authority for direct reply. I would ask the Deputy to contact my office if a response is not received within 10 days.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (128)

Thomas Gould

Question:

128. Deputy Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Transport if his attention has been drawn to a situation whereby driving schools have been instructed to give lessons only to essential workers with dates booked but essential workers cannot book their test without completing the 12 weeks essential driver training course. [6545/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

During level 5 restrictions, Approved Driving Instructors (ADIs) may continue to provide lessons, but only in such circumstances where the learner in question has already been scheduled a test date. I understand that this causes difficulty in certain situations as candidates cannot book a test until they have completed all 12 lessons. As I am sure the Deputy will appreciate, it was decided, in a climate where only limited services are being provided in order to reduce the spread of Covid, that driving instruction can continue as an essential service, but only in extremely limited circumstances.

While I regret the inconvenience caused, public safety is of paramount importance.

Driver Licences

Questions (129)

Colm Burke

Question:

129. Deputy Colm Burke asked the Minister for Transport if there is a method for Irish persons living abroad who do not have a public services card to apply for a driver licence or to renew their driver licence without the need to travel to Ireland, particularly during Covid-19; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6559/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

An Irish driving licence can only be issued to a person residing in Ireland. An Irish driving licence can be renewed up to 10 years after the expiry of the licence. If a person living abroad returns to live in Ireland within that timeframe, they can then apply to renew their Irish licence.

Rail Network

Questions (130)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

130. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Transport the estimated amount it would cost Iarnród Éireann if the number of contracted security staff increased by a further 40% based on 2019 figures. [6626/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

As the Minister for Transport, I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport. However, I am not involved in the operations of public transport.

The issue raised is an operational matter for Iarnród Éireann and I have forwarded the Deputy's question to the company for direct reply.

Please advise my private office if you do not receive a response within ten working days.

Dublin Bus

Questions (131)

Darren O'Rourke

Question:

131. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for Transport the way in which the subsidy for Dublin Bus is calculated; if it is based on the number of buses that are intended to be run rather than the number of buses that actually run; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6666/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

As Minister for Transport, I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport.

The National Transport Authority (NTA) has statutory responsibility for securing the provision of public passenger transport services nationally. Since 2010, the award of Public Service Obligation (PSO) funding falls under the independent statutory remit of the NTA. The allocations to individual companies, including Dublin Bus, are decided by the NTA in accordance with the various contract arrangements that it has in place with PSO service providers.

Therefore, I have forwarded the Deputy's question to the NTA for direct reply. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a response within ten working days.

Bus Éireann

Questions (132)

Darren O'Rourke

Question:

132. Deputy Darren O'Rourke asked the Minister for Transport the average age of the Bus Éireann fleet in each of the past three years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6667/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

As the Minister for Transport, I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport in Ireland. However, I am not involved in the day-to-day operations of public transport.

The issue raised is an operational matter for Bus Éireann and I have forwarded the Deputy's question to the company for direct reply.

Please advise my private office if you do not receive a response within ten working days.

Driver Licences

Questions (133)

Gerald Nash

Question:

133. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Transport when a renewal driver licence will be issued to a person (details supplied) in County Louth; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6684/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

This is an operational matter for the Road Safety Authority. I have referred the question to the Authority for direct reply. I would ask the Deputy to contact my office if a response is not received within 10 days.

Road Safety Authority

Questions (134)

Pádraig O'Sullivan

Question:

134. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Transport the status of the pilot programme by the Road Safety Authority to examine whether theory tests can be taken remotely and online; if the programme will be rolled-out in the future in order to clear the waiting list; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6685/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

While this is an operational matter for the RSA, my Department had previously requested that the Authority, as the body legally responsible for the driver theory test, examine whether theory tests can be taken on line remotely and what is required to do so.

The Driver Theory Test service has recently launched a pilot phase of a new initiative, which offers a Remote Testing service for specific categories of Theory Test (C, D, CD, BMT, TMT, ADI, CPCB, CPCT). During the pilot phase Remote Testing will be available on a limited basis and extra capacity will be added as it is rolled out to allow more customers to sit their bus, truck, CPC or ADI Theory Test online.

This pilot phase is still ongoing and will be reviewed in due course. Following this review, I understand the RSA expect the initiative to be extended for car and motorcycles.

While, the RSA are keen to progress and extend the service to all categories of Driver Theory Test, scaling up operations to facilitate higher numbers will take time to achieve.

Covid-19 Tests

Questions (135)

Pádraig O'Sullivan

Question:

135. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Transport the mechanism whereby a person who has recovered from Covid-19 but who would still test positive to a PCR test can travel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6691/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

My Department assists with the implementation of public health measures in relation to international travel, as decided by Government following relevant advice.

All requirements for arriving passengers are published on the Government's website

https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/b4020-travelling-to-ireland-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/

If a citizen has a genuine humanitarian emergency requiring urgent travel, and are not be able to obtain evidence of a negative pre-departure RT-PCR test in time, they should contact the nearest embassy or consulate immediately for advice and consular assistance.

Rail Network

Questions (136)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

136. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Transport if consideration will be given to undertaking a feasibility study of the railway line from Navan to Kingscourt, County Cavan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6703/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

As the Deputy was previously advised, I am informed that Iarnród Éireann (IÉ) has no current plans to reopen this line nor to undertake a feasibility study at this time. I am also informed that a potential re-opening of the line does not feature in the relevant Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies.

As the Deputy is aware, the issue of a potential extension of the existing Dunboyne/M3 Parkway line to Navan was considered by the National Transport Authority (NTA) during its development of the statutory Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area 2016 to 2035. This issue remains under review and will be specifically considered again as part of the statutory review of the current Strategy, on which the NTA has commenced preparatory work.

The review will include a comprehensive analysis of changes to population projections, development density, employment forecasts and future travel demand patterns and will be subject to a full public consultation, including the publication of all background reports and feasibility studies; and that public consultation will take place later this year. I look forward to the launch of the consultation and I would encourage all citizens and public representatives to participate in this important process.

Road Projects

Questions (137)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

137. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Transport the status of the east-west link road project which is urgently needed in the north east; the most recent engagements his Department has made on the project; the bodies with which engagement has been made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6716/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

Proposals to deliver an upgraded East-West route linking Dundalk to Sligo, taking in Cavan, involve linking elements of the national road network and regional roads along as direct a route as possible. Essentially the route involves upgrade/realignment works on the regional routes from Dundalk to Cavan and on national routes from Cavan to Sligo.

As regards the regional road aspect of the proposal, the improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is the statutory responsibility of the relevant local authority in accordance with the provisions of Section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. Works on those roads are funded from the Council's own resources supplemented by State road grants.

My Department provided funding to Cavan County Council (acting as lead authority with Monaghan and Louth County Councils) with over €2m in the period 2007-2014 to progress the regional road element of the project to preliminary design.

As indicated previously, the Department is currently liaising with the Council in relation to carrying out a risk based analysis for the route between Dundalk and Cavan. I met with the Deputy and other political representatives in December last.

As regards the national road element of an east-west link, I have referred the question to Transport Infrastructure Ireland for a direct reply. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within 10 working days.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

Questions (138)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

138. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Transport the funding supports being made available to private bus operators during Covid-19 that employ significant numbers of persons locally; if private operators will be included in the supports being provided to companies such as CIÉ; if his attention has been drawn to the need for supports to private operators in the interest of regional jobs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6722/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

Both the National Transport Authority (NTA) and my Department have been engaging directly with commercial bus operators throughout the Covid-19 Emergency. The public transport system in Ireland has played an essential service role over the course of the pandemic, especially in carrying essential workers and others making necessary journeys.

In this regard, the Government agreed substantial increases to the PSO budget to support continuation of PSO services during the Covid situation in 2020 and 2021. In addition, the Government has recognised the situation of the licenced bus sector - which normally operates on a commercial basis without public subvention but which, during the Covid crisis, was in a situation where its operations were no longer commercially viable, owing to the impact of Covid-19 on passenger numbers and the associated drop in fare revenue.

Therefore, last June the Government decided to introduce new, temporary financial support for certain licensed services provided by commercial bus operators to ensure the continued operation of these essential services. The temporary support was initially introduced for a period of 6 months, with a view to protecting capacity across the public transport sector throughout the crisis. The NTA on behalf of my Department, entered into contracts with the licensed bus sector to provide funding for routes where a clear public interest justification supports such intervention. A total of 64 licensed commercial operators throughout the country are being assisted under this scheme.

As it remains the case that commercial bus operators are still under severe financial distress due to the fall in passenger numbers and associated drop in fare revenue as a result of Covid-19, on 26 January 2021, Government decided to extend the temporary funding supports for the licensed bus sector for a further period of 3 months, with an option to extend contracts on a monthly basis thereafter.

These supports are in addition to the suite of other financial support measures that the Government has introduced to help mitigate the impact of Covid-19, including the pandemic unemployment payment which operators can avail of and which remains open to new applicants until the end of March 2021 and the Covid Restrictions Support Scheme, or ‘CRSS’, which offers temporary sector-specific support to businesses forced to close or trade at significantly reduced levels due to Covid-19 of up to €5,000 per week.

A full list of enterprise measures is available on the website of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation.

National Driver Licensing Service

Questions (139)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

139. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Transport the way in which National Driver Licensing Service centres are operating during Covid-19 (details supplied); if he will provide clarity on same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6723/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

The Road Safety Authority (RSA) is responsible for the National Driving Licence Service (NDLS).

The NDLS resumed services in June, following the closure of the centres due to the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions. All appointments must be booked in advance as it is not possible to facilitate any walk-ins due to social-distancing requirements and in the interest of protecting the staff and customers. This, of course, has led to an increase in the demand for appointments.

The RSA has worked with their providers to create additional capacity through a combination of additional staff, extended and additional operating hours (i.e. Sundays where needed), and the provision of overtime.

Under Covid-19 Level 5 Government restrictions effective from 6 January 2021, attendance at a NDLS centre is only possible provided that the applicant is an essential worker involved in the provision of essential services or essential retail outlets.

The RSA has expanded the current online facility to accommodate all driving licence and learner permit applications. A verified MyGovID account, which requires a Public Services Card, is needed to access the online system.

Applicants aged 70 years or over can make their applications by post. Applicants will be contacted directly by the NDLS and will receive a renewal pack in the post.

Driver Test

Questions (140)

Niamh Smyth

Question:

140. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Transport the number of persons on waiting lists for driver tests in counties Cavan, Monaghan and Meath and nationwide, to date; the length of time they have been waiting; the stage they are at in the application process, in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6724/21]

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Written answers (Question to Transport)

This is an operational matter for the Road Safety Authority. I have referred the question to the Authority for direct reply. I would ask the Deputy to contact my office if a response is not received within 10 days.