Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 19 Mar 1969

Vol. 239 No. 4

Committee on Finance. - Adjournment Debate: Driving Test.

The matter I wish to raise is one which will have a very forcible impact, I believe, in the not too distant future. Any Deputy representing a Border constituency is more familiar with the problem created than are Deputies representing constituencies removed from the Border. The fact is that people who emigrate and who are absent for more than five years must on their return here undergo a driving test despite their having done a driving test here originally or in the country to which they emigrated. The situation is ludicrous, the more so when one relates this requirement to someone who works in Lifford by day and sleeps in Strabane by night. There is a young married man who cannot get a house in Lifford and because he sleeps in Strabane in County Tyrone he cannot hold a driving licence in Donegal. If this position continues and he spends five years passing from Donegal into Tyrone, he will at the end of that period have to undergo a driving test to requalify if he comes back to live in Donegal. On 11th March last, in reply to a question by Deputy Clinton, the Minister refused to take any action whatsoever to resolve the difficulties that exist and, in reply to a supplementary question by me, he said at column 11 of Volume 239 of the Official Report:

I am prepared to conclude reciprocal arrangements with any countries that are prepared to make them with us.

Later on he said he saw no good reason for entering into negotiations because they would be futile. I told the Minister Irish driving licences were recognised in other countries while we did not recognise these countries' licences. Had I been permitted to develop the point, I could have told the Minister that both Luxembourg and the Netherlands will issue valid driving licences to Irish nationals within 12 months of those nationals going to reside in these countries. In Belgium one is required to do a test in the theory of road traffic regulations, but the Irish licence is recognised and a licence in the country of residence is issued without any practical test. But the Minister will not recognise that an Irish national who lives for more than five years in the Six Counties is entitled to a driving licence without a driving test if and when he returns. It is a ludicrous situation. It is typical of the Minister's attitude. He will not admit an injustice which could be remedied by reaching for the telephone and informing his counterpart in Belfast or London that he is prepared to recognise a British or Northern Ireland driving licence irrespective of whether or not the counterpart recognises our driving licence.

The World Touring Automobile Organisation went to a great deal of trouble to encourage member countries to recognise driving licences. Licences are controlled by the 1926 Convention. Most European countries, except Germany, subscribed to that Convention. West Germany subscribed to the Convention when it was brought up to date in 1949. A foreigner in West Germany can obtain a driving licence by undergoing a test in the theory within one year of taking up residence there. West Germany will recognise the validity of an Irish driving licence and the only test is one of theory. I cannot understand why the Minister should persist in refusing to recognise a Northern Ireland or British driving licence. If we can recognise road tax and the highway codes of Britain and Northern Ireland, if we can co-operate in the supply of electricity, if local authorities can co-operate with each other in the supplying of water, if fishery rights can be held under joint control, I see no good reason why the Minister should refuse to do anything in this matter of driving licences. It is a stupid situation. Sooner or later someone will have to deal with it.

I want to quote now from the European Commission which issued its report in Brussels in May, 1968. In Italy, Belgium, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and the Netherlands the foreign driver who goes to live there has to have a driving licence from his country of residence and he can obtain a licence in any of these countries without a further test on presentation of the licence issued by his country of origin. There may be some additional formalities such as medical examination, the payment of tax, and so on, before the new licence is issued. There is no red tape whatsoever in these regulations.

In spite of this, the Minister says, in effect "I have no information that there are any such agreements". A Minister of State is saddled with the responsibility of trying to give the people the service they want. That is the essence of good government. That is why governments are elected—to serve the people and to change laws that are outdated. Here is a commission asking for the co-operation of all member States of EEC. We want to be in EEC. The commission recommends to all the member nations of the 1949 Convention that they should co-operate and bring into line highway codes. Now that highway codes have been brought much closer to recognition by everyone concerned, there is no reason why the driving licence should not be recognised.

The kernel of my argument does not stop at that. In 1949 the Geneva Convention relating to highway codes advanced to the stage that they would recognise the driving licence of a traveller crossing the border of another country. I remember that, as a youth, I used an Irish licence and a British licence if I wished to drive into the Six Counties. From memory, I think it was about 1949. I now know that this Convention changed all that — that the Northern authorities would recognise an Irish driving licence and that we, in the South, would recognise the driving licence of the North if you came in as a bona fide traveller.

The question I want to ask is this. The 1949 Convention advanced to the stage that they would recognise the driving licence of any visitor who stayed less than or up to 12 months as a visitor in a foreign country, but there is nothing in the Convention to say that the Irish Government or any other member State cannot go further. There is nothing in the Convention to say that you had to have residence or that you were deprived if you came in to take a job. In actual fact, some civil servant interpreted the rules to mean that the Convention dealt only with travellers crossing the border of another country. However, if read otherwise, the Convention can mean that the Minister for Local Government, if he so desires, can make an Order saying, in effect: "I am prepared to recognise a British driver's licence provided there is parity in the driving tests and provided the driving licence is valid." He does not have to enter into reciprocal agreements. He can make an Order himself saying, in effect: "I am prepared to do it."

There are many points which I should like to make but I feel that the strongest one I can make is that we here in the Republic of Ireland should try to indicate, particularly to the people living in the North of Ireland, that we are prepared to recognise certain standards that they have set. Nobody can dispute the fact that the highway code in the North of Ireland is much more rigid than it is in the South. No one can dispute the fact that the standard of driving in the North of Ireland is equally as good as, if not a small bit better than, the standard here in the South. Nobody can dispute, indeed, that their road manners are equally as good as, if, again, not better than, those of ours in the South. There is no reason why the Minister for Local Government cannot now say, in effect: "I appreciate this and I accept that the highway code in the North of Ireland is not substandard to the highway code in the Twenty-six Counties of the Republic." Therefore, if we agree on the road tax, if we agree on all the other codes, why can we not agree on the recognition of a driving licence? It seems a very simple thing.

For example, this position could arise. It is a hypothetical one. You know, a Cheann Comhairle, that the county of Donegal is controlled — it does not matter what the denomination — by a Bishop. The Catholic Bishop, residing in Derry, controls the north of Donegal. The Church of Ireland Bishop controls the entire county of Donegal because it is a joint diocese of Derry and Raphoe. If a young Donegal boy does a test and becomes a licensed driver and then is ordained to the Church — it does not matter what denomination — and goes to live in Derry he has then to do a test in Derry and, if he stays there for five years and is transferred within the same diocese across the Border, he has to do a driving test again. If he is promoted to parish priest or rector and goes back to the North he has to do the test in the North again after five years. The whole thing is so ridiculous that I should not have to emphasise the case.

I want to approach this matter in a rational way. There are no politics in it. The number of votes per constituency could be counted possibly on the fingers of both hands — but there must be hundreds over the entire country. The situation is so ridiculous that the Minister for Local Government cannot ignore it. The Minister boasts of the people who emigrated and for whom Fianna Fáil can now provide a living here. Yet he insists, if they come back to their native land after an absence of five years, that they must do a driving test in order to get back on the road again. This is a stupid situation and I hope the Minister will do something about it.

This, I think, is the second occasion on which Deputy Harte has raised this question on the Adjournment. We had it before on 11th June, 1968. On that occasion, I pointed out to him that, in order to make an agreement, there have to be two parties and that I just cannot make this reciprocal agreement with myself.

But the Minister was wrong then.

I told Deputy Harte last June that, in so far as I was concerned, I was both willing and anxious to complete a reciprocal agreement arranging for mutual recognition of driving licences between this country and Britain. It is only now in the concluding stages of his speech that Deputy Harte's actual proposal becomes clear. He is proposing that I should accord unilateral recognition to British driving licences. I did not appreciate until just now that, in fact, that was what Deputy Harte was suggesting. I understood last June that Deputy Harte at least agreed it was only right that if we accord recognition to British driving licences then our driving licences, being also subject to a test, should be accorded recognition there.

May I ask a question?

Deputy Harte had 20 minutes in which to make his case. The Minister has now only ten minutes in which to reply.

The Minister is not replying to my case at all. He is talking in circles.

The Deputy had 20 minutes in which to make his case and it was only in the concluding stages of his speech that it became clear that what he wanted was unilateral recognition.


If the Deputy wants information he should listen.

The Deputy was advocating unilateral recognition. That is where I disagree with the Deputy. I have said that I am anxious to conclude a reciprocal agreement——

Then do it with Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

Order. The Deputy should behave himself. He has put down a question to elicit information.

I disagree with Deputy Harte in regard to his suggestion that we should accord unilateral recognition to British driving licences here. It would facilitate people both in this country and in Britain if this recognition was given and I can see no reason——


Deputy Harte had 20 minutes to speak.

Luxembourg and the Netherlands are not specifically in question. The question deals with the recognition of British driving licences——

It does no such thing.

Luxembourg and the Netherlands have no function in the matter of according recognition——

They each have a sensible Minister for Local Government and we have not.

——to our licences in Britain. A reciprocal agreement would involve this Government and the British Government and I would be anxious to conclude such an agreement but it does take two parties to make an agreement.


As far as I know, there is no country which has such a reciprocal arrangement with any other country. There is no country, as far as I know, that accords recognition to the driving licences of another country except in so far as visitors are concerned and we do that. We accord the same recognition——

I have quoted facts. Would the Minister refute them?

——as any other country. That is what I am doing.

The Minister is making a very poor case.

If the Deputy will allow me. I listened to the Deputy for——

I have given the Minister since June last and he has done nothing.

The Deputy does not want to get elucidation and since that is fairly obvious I will content myself with repeating what I said in June, 1968, that I cannot make this agreement with myself and I do not think it would be right or feasible to accord unilateral recognition to British driving licences here. There are just as many people who——

The Minister was too concerned with running referenda.


——would wish to have the driving licences they have taken out here recognised, just as there are British people coming here——

The Minister will not recognise the right of a Belfast man to drive in Ireland——


There are many anomalies——

The Minister is a hypocrite.

——because of the unnatural——

The Deputy may not refer to the Minister as "a hypocrite." He must withdraw the remark.

I will withdraw it.

There are many anomalies arising out of the unnatural boundaries imposed with the co-operation of the Party to which the Deputy belongs.

That does not drum any more.

Deputy Harte's Party betrayed the integrity of the country.

We are talking about driving licences.

The Dáil adjourned at 10.55 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 20th March, 1969.