I propose to take Questions Nos. 7, 9, 56 and 257 together.
I had the privilege of speaking at the Irish Road Hauliers Association annual conference in Kilkenny on Saturday, the third time I have done so since I was appointed Minister. I have consistently sought to work with the industry to ensure it is fit for purpose. My goal is to have a haulage industry that operates efficiently, safely and profitably and I believe that during my tenure to date we have made real progress in this regard.
I appreciate the UK HGV road user levy is of concern, in particular for hauliers operating to and from Donegal. I have had extensive discussions with my UK and Northern Ireland counterparts on the matter and have made representations to the UK authorities to exempt certain significant sections of Northern Ireland's road infrastructure from the levy. Departmental officials and I are committed to pursuing this issue to the fullest possible extent. In this regard I acknowledge the co-operative role that Mark Durcan, the Northern Ireland Minister for the Environment, has taken on this matter.
The Taoiseach raised this issue at his recent meeting with UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, and I understand that yesterday Deputy McHugh met the Northern Ireland Secretary, Theresa Villiers, on this issue also. My colleague Jim Higgins, MEP, Ireland's representative on the European Parliament Transport and Tourism Committee, has written to the Commissioner for Transport, Siim Kallas, and the Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services, Michel Barnier, on the issue and will shortly meet the chairman of the European Parliament Transport and Tourism Committee to discuss the matter.
I encourage Sinn Féin Deputies to ensure their party colleagues use their good offices in Northern Ireland and in the House of Commons to encourage the British Government to accede to our position on this matter.
With regard to Deputy McHugh's suggestion, a HGV road user charge group was set up across Departments and is due to report by the middle of this year. The group will explore all options, including the feasibility of joining existing regimes such as Eurovignette and the new UK HGV user levy.
Deputy Wallace refers to commercial vehicle roadworthiness, CVR, testing and cabotage. The Road Safety Authority has undertaken a comprehensive programme of reform of CVR testing. Conformity with vehicle standards is fundamental to our safety agenda. The previous system was introduced 30 years ago and is no longer fit for purpose. Specific concerns were raised by the industry about the testing of trailers under the new regime. I am pleased to report that my officials, the RSA and the Irish Road Haulage Association met to discuss these concerns and they have been satisfactorily dealt with.
I have had consultations with my UK counterpart to discuss cabotage carried out by Irish hauliers in the UK. Ultimately, the issue is that the British Government is taking a very strict interpretation of EU cabotage rules and that is impacting greatly on the ability of Irish hauliers to operate in the UK. The current cabotage regulations are too restrictive, inappropriate, anti-competitive and represent undue interference in the free market. However, while the current regulations are in place, the British Government’s enforcement actions, while unwelcome, are legal.