Deputy Troy was in possession. We are resuming on amendment No. 4 which was recommitted.
Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill 2017: Report Stage (Resumed)
I understand amendments No. 4 to 21, inclusive, have been grouped together. Therefore, I will speak to a number of amendments and I trust that is permissible. I had a brief opportunity to start my contribution on the previous occasion. I made the point that it has been illegal for a motorist drive a car with a blood alcohol level in excess of the 50 mg limit since 2011. Despite many positive changes that have been introduced to our road traffic legislation, such as the reduction of the blood alcohol limit, the introduction of penalty points and random breath-testing, the fact remains that, unfortunately, we still have fatalities on our roads. The point I made on the last occasion and the point I want to make again tonight is that we should be focusing our scarce resources on tackling the area that is the biggest problem. The only up-to-date figures we have, which are certified and produced by the Road Safety Authority, are from 2008 to 2012. Of the sizeable number of fatalities in that period, 39 had a blood alcohol level of in excess of 250 mg, 37 had a blood alcohol level of between 201 mg and 250 mg, 25 had a blood alcohol level of between 150 mg and 200 mg and 20 had a blood alcohol level of between 100 mg and 150 mg. Despite that, this area is not even being considered by the Minister. He seems to believe, and he reiterates this time and again, that the only real deterrent for people who break an existing law is automatic disqualification. If automatic disqualification was the deterrent the Minister seems to believe it is, we would not have the fatalities in this category because those people are already liable if caught to be put off the road. If automatic disqualification was the deterrent the Minister says it is, the figure for 2016 which the Minister gave us on Committee Stage was that 8,063 people were arrested and detected for having alcohol in their blood that was over the limit. Of that 8,063, 93% were in a category that would deem automatic disqualification. The point I am making is that if automatic disqualification was such a deterrent we would have fewer people in the category of people who have been disqualified and fewer fatalities in that area.
The real deterrent, and this has been backed up time and again, is the fear of being caught. Unfortunately, the checks are too sporadic. During the past number of years, the number of people working in the traffic corps has decreased from full capacity, which was more than 1,000, to approximately 667 now. There are 444 fewer people working in the traffic corps now than was the case when it was at full capacity. The real deterrent is for people to be afraid when they look in their wing mirror and see a blue flashing light behind them or for people to be stopped at an automatic check point. That is not happening now. During 2016, when a very good Christmas campaign was launched, it resulted in a decrease of 34% in road deaths compared to the same period in 2015 and a decrease of 27% in road deaths compared to the same period in 2014.
I have no sympathy whatsoever for anybody who willingly goes out and breaks the law by drink driving. However, where I have sympathy, and I believe the Minister's proposal is disproportionate to the offence, is where somebody who takes a taxi, a Nitelink, shares a lift or whatever home, goes to bed, gets up the next morning and may be marginally over the blood alcohol limit of 50 mg. The Minister is now saying that person did everything right but we will put him or her off the road for three months. As a result, that person who may be the breadwinner and the only earner in the house will lose his or her job. I believe that penalty is disproportionate.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the blood alcohol limit is 80 mg. In Ohio and a number of other states in the United States, the blood alcohol limit is 80 mg. In Canadian provinces and territories, it is 80 mg. Already, we are below the blood alcohol limit in many other countries. What we are proposing as a party and what we believe to be fair and proportionate is to increase the penalty points to five and have a €500 fine. That is fair and proportionate in terms of the penalty.
We have to remember that what we are doing now is being done against a backdrop of Garda breath test figures over which we cannot stand.
In fact, the Road Safety Authority itself, in August 2017, stated:
The Road Safety Authority (RSA) was greatly concerned [...] that there were significant discrepancies between the number of people actually being breathalysed versus the number recorded as having been breathalysed since 2011.
Unquestionably, there is a direct link between the levels of drink driving enforcement conducted and compliance with drink driving laws. The absence of credible and reliable enforcement metrics such as the numbers of drivers being breath tested, makes it almost impossible to evaluate and measure the effectiveness of road safety interventions.
This is especially valid in the context of the rise in road deaths over recent years. [...] One of the primary concerns for the RSA is the implications for road safety of inaccurate data being recorded and the potential lack of enforcement activity especially around the issue of drink driving which continues to be a serious problem in this country.
Those are the Road Safety Authority's own words. It cannot stand over the data on which the Minister is relying for introducing this legislation. Are we, as legislators, meant to rely on good, sound data? I believe we are and in this instance, we are not doing so.
Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan published a report on the examination of the recording of breath tests at mandatory alcohol-intoxicant testing checkpoints, which stated:
The examination calculated breath test data from 7th June 2009 – 10th April 2017 and determined that 3,498,400 breath tests were recorded on PULSE compared to 2,040,179 recorded on Dräger devices. This identified a discrepancy of 1,458,221 breath tests between the Dräger count and the PULSE count, which reflects a 71% disparity between breath tests recorded on Dräger and those recorded on PULSE.
I have no intention of filibustering this legislation. I have been fair at every opportunity the Minister has come before the House. If there is any reason for delays it is because the Minister has not been able to secure time in the Dáil to debate this issue since he published the Bill in February of last year.
What the Minister proposes is disproportionate. The Minister is operating on a foundation of sand because, as the Road Safety Authority and an assistant commissioner acknowledge, we cannot even have confidence in the facts provided.
I believe the Minister is going for low-hanging fruit. If the Minister is serious and genuine about tackling the scourge of fatalities on our roads, why is he not prepared to bring in far stricter measures for drivers in excess of 80 mg or 100 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood where the vast bulk of our fatalities occur?
As somebody who is totally opposed to drink driving and who wants to ensure that impaired drivers are off our roads, I believe genuinely the best way to do so is to increase the Garda presence on the roads. The Minister failed to ensure there was an increase in the traffic corps last year. I hope the Minister will be able to honour his commitment this year.
The Minister should not punish somebody the following morning who is marginally over a limit that is already lower than that applicable internationally and put him or her off the road for doing the right thing. It is unfair. It is disproportionate. The Minister should reconsider what I have proposed, which is fair and balanced.
I strongly support subsection 1(1)(d)(i), the substitution by the Minister in the original Bill, and commend him for it. I am not a member of the Select Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport but I read carefully all the comments by colleagues at that committee.
The points the Minister made on his proposal are fairly unanswerable, in particular, that between 2012 and 2016, 3,003 fixed penalty notices were issued to drink drivers in the 51 mg to 80 mg alcohol concentration bracket, alcohol is a factor in 38% of road deaths and, most importantly, the Road Safety Authority tells us that at least 35 people died in collisions in the period from 2008 to 2012 which involved drivers being found responsible owing to alcohol levels between 21 mg and 80 mg. These are decisive statistics, unlike what Deputy Troy has said, and they make a strong case.
When one looks at the overall situation again this year, for example, last month we had 17 fatalities compared to just seven in April 2017 - ten more people died on our roads last month than in the same period a year previously - and 55 people in all have died on the roads this year. Fifty five tragedies is an incredible number.
I welcome again to the Gallery the representatives of the PARC road safety group, in particular, Ms Susan Gray and her son, Stephen, Mr. Noel Clancy and his daughter, Fiona, and Mr. Alec Lee, who have campaigned strenuously for the key two amendments, I believe, improvements, in road traffic law which this Bill constitutes and on which the statistics are strong indeed.
Deputy Troy referred to rules in the United States and in Canada. If Deputy Troy, who is a diligent transport spokesperson, looks at the road casualties in some American states, in particular, states such as South Carolina, Alabama or North Carolina, which are roughly of the size and population of Ireland, he will find that the casualties on Irish roads are devastating.
I believe that the Minister has made a powerful case for the original insertion of this amendment Bill and the House should speedily enact it. I commend the Minister.
I believe the amendments that have been submitted to dilute this, whether involving five penalty points or whatever, unfortunately, will detract from road safety and will permit a horrific situation to continue whereby alcohol will be a significant contributory factor to deaths on our roads.
Deputy Mattie McGrath?
With the Acting Chairman's co-operation, if she does not mind, I would ask her to let Deputy Healy-Rae go first.
First, I thank Deputy Troy for his contribution and the research and work that he put into the amendment that he is putting forward.
The whole issue, and the difficulties that we have with it, were compounded the other day when I saw a report whereby somebody stated that upon the passing of this legislation what people can be sure of is that there will be a concentration of members of An Garda Síochána out early in the mornings seeing what sort of a result they will get from a more stringent and more concentrated effort at the early morning breath tests.
Deputy Troy rightly mentioned in his contribution that the result of this could impact on drivers who would be very marginally over the limit the morning after doing everything right. At the end of the day, all we are talking about here is fair play for drivers who try to do the right thing. Such drivers, who go out at night, perhaps seldom, maybe with their wife or whatever, do everything right. They get a taxi or make an arrangement. The following morning, they are on their way to work and all of a sudden find themselves falling foul of the new penalties that would be in place following the enactment of this Bill.
That is why I still have the same problems. When I last spoke on this I made it quite clear I do not blame the Minister for everything that has gone wrong in rural Ireland but I see this as doing nothing to help the situation. I acknowledge that other people have put forward different arguments in support of what the Minister is doing. In case the Minister thinks he is without his supporters, there are people out there, as well as politicians here, who agree with what the Minister is trying to do. It has to be acknowledged. The Minister has his supporters. Unfortunately, when it comes to what the Minister is proposing in this Bill, I do not support it. I do not support it on certain grounds. It is why I and others have tabled a number of amendments that we want to be included. We want it to be changed. That is why we will be going through this in great detail, as we would be expected to do. If we were not to do so, we would be neglectful in our duties. At the end of the day, we are charged to be here to represent people. There are two sides to this argument. We feel we are right and that the status quo, the way the system is at present and the penalties go far enough.
I am terribly sorry. I will not go into personal detail because it would not be the right thing to do. I am very sorry for some of those who have contacted me in recent days. I have heard from individuals who gave me what I would call harrowing accounts of life experiences they have had. That has to be acknowledged. Would I want to see that happening to anybody else? Obviously I would not. Do I think what the Minister is proposing here today will stop it? I do not. That is fundamentally where we have the disagreement.
It is not that I do not respect the people who contact me and what they told me. It would be wrong to say that. I am only a human being the same as they are. Any one of us can fall foul of events that happen day-to-day in our lives, such as accidents and different things. None of us is immune from that. When it happens to anybody, let it be someone we do not know. When people contact us and tell us their stories, it is obviously a harrowing thing to be told. Like other Members in the House, I have heard from people. I appreciate them taking the time to contact me and talk to me. I hope I did them the proper courtesy of listening. I am sure that by acknowledging what I was told they will realise I did listen.
They might ask why I am not changing my mind and why I do not support the Minister. I still fundamentally believe we cannot legislate for every accident. If we could there would never again be an accident. They changed the way cars are made to reduce deaths. They made crumple zones. When the Volvo car came out first it was supposed to be the safest car going because it had all these different devices to make it safer than every other car. Now every car has every type of modern contraption to try to protect and safeguard the occupant of the car.
At the end of the day does it completely reduce the number of people dying on our roads? It does not. Our roads have been improving including the surface of roads, their alignment and their entrances and exits. Everybody is trying to do their part. Our local authorities are playing their part in trying to reduce the deaths on our roads. Gardaí are playing their part. Sadly, we will still have people dying and being maimed on our roads. Can the Minister and the Government and we as legislators completely stop people from being hurt, maimed or, sadly, dying on our roads? We cannot. We never will. If this legislation is passed in its entirely without amendments and if the Minister gets his way completely, does it mean it will impact and reduce the numbers? Will we finish up at a stage where we would all love to be if we could be and that would be that people would no longer die on our roads? No we will not. I fully believe that. We will not, no matter what we do or what anybody does.
It is like farm accidents. Year in, year out, we have seen farm incidents becoming more prevalent and more common. Sadly, we have people being maimed and dying on our farms in an awful number. It has increased in recent years despite the good work of people in the IFA, the ICMSA, the health and safety regulatory authorities and everybody campaigning and trying to make people aware of accidents and incidents and how to prevent them. Have we reached a stage where people are not dying on our farms? We have not and we will not because we cannot legislate for every eventuality. We cannot legislate for every accident. We cannot ensure people will not die in their workplaces, on building sites or in factories. It is happening all the time and it will continue to happen. There is nothing we can do. If I thought this would make a big change and would help us to reach a situation where people would no longer die on our roads, of course people would have to look very closely at it but I am not convinced.
I am not infallible. I do not have a monopoly on being right but at the same time, like everything in life, in politics one has to make a decision and make up one's mind about what one thinks is right and what one thinks is wrong. I think this is fundamentally wrong. I do not think the Minister has thought it through enough. I do not think the officials who have worked with the Minister, and for whom I have nothing but the utmost respect, have thought it through. I really think people are losing sight of the argument here. People are reacting to a situation where, very sadly, young people are losing their lives on the roads.
What I have always said is that when the Minister looks at the problem he should look at it in its entirety. One of the things I could never understand - it is not the Minister's fault - is why previous Ministers did not look at this. When I refer to Ministers, I refer to those in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and also to former Ministers for Education and Skills. One of the most sure things young people are ever going to do when they are going to school is to finish up driving a motor car. How could one say that any youngster today going to a national or secondary school will not finish up in charge of a mechanically-propelled vehicle? We know they absolutely will. It would be fair to say 99.9% of them will do so.
What are we doing in the education system to prepare those people for that monumental task? We are doing nothing. We teach them every other subject. We teach them everything. We prepare them for every aspect of life and one of the most major important things I can think of is that they will be in charge of a mechanically-propelled vehicle, they will be able to drive at a considerably young age and will be on our roads. We are doing nothing to prepare them for that. I really cannot get my head around it. I would be supportive of the Minister if he was coming in here and the Minister for Education and Skills was alongside him and he was saying it was his opinion that on leaving national school and going into first year in the secondary schools it would be compulsory on the curriculum that every day or a number of times a week youngsters would be trained on the issue of road safety, what it means to be courteous to other drivers, what it means to be careful, to value their lives and to protect other people and then to engage them on the rules of the road.
The majority of our young people would not dream of drinking and driving, though we will always have exceptions to that and situations for which we cannot account. I can never get over why we have not been educating young people in our schools about the use of motor cars, and this is something I have spoken about before. If we did that it would be very useful in creating awareness.
I ask the Deputy to speak to the amendments.
I am talking about the amendment and why it is not broader. This is the Minister's solution for road safety but there are many other aspects of the problem which the Minister should tackle. The Minister for Education and Skills has not made a contribution and never discusses it when he goes before the teaching organisations. Our teachers have enough to do but I am sure they would welcome it if the Government and Ministers introduced education in this area of the curriculum, in the interests of safety. They should make it compulsory. It is compulsory to have languages and other things but not to be trained in the rules of the road or told of the major responsibility it is to drive a mechanically-propelled vehicle. I would love the Minister to do that rather than this.
This is a political reaction so that the Department can state that it is doing its best to save lives by bringing legislation before the Dáil. I am not convinced about it, however. If I was, I would support the Minister.
I sympathise with all the families who have lost loved ones due to drunk driving. I emphasis "drunk driving", however, because I do not believe that someone who has consumed a pint, or a pint and a half, and is under 80 mg is a drunk driver. The Minister is on some kind of a crusade and does not have constituents in rural areas who depend on their car to get to work, college or anywhere. In rural Ireland there are no other means of transport and there has been no attempt to ensure people can be catered for in this way. If a mother or father go to work but lose their licence, as Deputies Troy and Michael Healy-Rae said, as a result of having more than 50 mg in their blood tomorrow morning they can lose everything, because without a licence in rural Ireland they cannot get anywhere or do anything. They have to be driven everywhere and that is too costly. It is hard to get a licence back and it is hard to get insurance again.
I am sorry that the Minister described me as a "road traffic terrorist" and spoke of me and my "gang" in some other forum today. I have a family at home and I do not think the Minister would like to be called a terrorist. I will deal with that in another fashion and I have sought legal advice. I never hurt or harmed anybody and never thought I would be so described. I have a licence to drive every vehicle on the road and I am proud of that. I got my first licence to drive a tractor aged 16 and did a driving test in a motor car, a rigid lorry, an articulated lorry and a large coach. I am licensed to pull a trailer after a coach and I am proud of that too. I am very hurt by being called a terrorist and the Minister will answer to someone, somewhere, as to what he means by that because I am not letting it go. Maybe the Minister has lost the run of himself because there was mention of some of them going to Korea to sort terrorists out there.
I understand that the Deputy is hurt but I ask him to speak to the amendments. He has quite a bit of latitude in speaking to the amendments.
I do not know why I should be called a terrorist when I only represent the people of Kerry who elected me and my brother to this House. The Minister could just as well be calling those people terrorists as well. The Minister has thrown a lot of things at me in this debate, such as the accusation that I was fighting this for publicans, but in the course of scoraíochting in Kerry, people went to each other's house to visit and break the monotony of their lives. Nowadays, they have to drive because their neighbours are further away and the closer neighbours have left or emigrated. Rural Ireland was badly hit in the 1950s but in recent times it has been hit much worse. People drive to each other's houses but they cannot even have one drink now because they cannot be sure they will be under the limit and they will be afraid of losing their licence. The one bit of recreation they had, which was to go to neighbours' houses, will be lost. It is not about publicans but about loneliness and having something to do in rural places, where they do not have theatres, cinemas, basketball courts or gyms. They will now be totally isolated and will have to listen to the radio, because there is not much to watch on the television nowadays.
Deputy Troy asked why we were being scapegoated. In Northern Ireland one can legally drive with less than 80 mg, and the same is true in England. There is a lot of talk about a hard or soft Border but we are only one field away from Northern Ireland in many parts of the Twenty-six Counties.
We will have a less severe rule in the North and a more severe rule in the South. In France, a person who is found to have between 50 mg and 80 mg of alcohol per 100 mg of blood will only be fined.
In the debacle around breath tests we learned that numbers had been doubled and trebled, such that nobody knows the true number of breath tests conducted. We also can no longer trust the figures being provided by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. The Minister mentioned that there were 36 fatalities between 2008 and 2012 which were in the 20 mg to 80 mg bracket, of which 19 were in the 20 mg to 50 mg bracket. As such, the Minister's argument does not make sense. I asked for a breakdown of those 36 fatalities to include if the accident was caused by a drunk pedestrian walking along the road who had fallen onto the road in front of the car; a person who had had two glasses of lager or Guinness and was driving on their own side of the road meeting another driver with no alcohol who was speeding, lost control of a car and crashed into the person's car and maybe killed himself and his wife. I got no answer to those questions. I also asked if among those 36 fatalities was a young fella who had one pint after work who met black ice on the way home and hit a bridge to which I also got no answer. I oppose drunk driving but I honestly believe that a person with a pint and a half or 50 mg to 80 mg of alcohol is not a drunk driver.
I note Fine Gael is supporting the Bill. It is supporting the Minister for his support for Government to make up the numbers. I regret this because I know so many Fine Gael Deputies enjoy the support of people in rural Ireland who will be hurt by this Bill. If this Bill would reduce accidents or fatalities I would be behind it too but I do not believe it will. In the city of Dublin, there are many modes of transport, including taxis, the DART service, buses and trains. A person with his or her thumb up in Gearhasallagh, the Black Valley or Lauragh would be waiting a long time and no bus or taxi will come. He or she could not phone for a taxi because there is no coverage in most of those parts. The Minister is welcome to Kerry any time but if he does come he should not try thumbing a lift around the Incheese because he could be there from May to November and no car would come along. The Minister would be fairly cold and would still not have got a drive.
It must be realised that this will have a serious, detrimental impact on people who lose their licence as it is so hard to get it back. They will lose their insurance, and may never get it back. I appeal to the Minister and the Government. I know many members of Fianna Fáil do not support the Minister but I do not know what the Fianna Fáil leadership is saying or doing. Many fine Fianna Fáil members oppose what the Minister is doing but we do not know what way they will vote. I will be voting against this Bill. Many of the people about whom I am speaking would vote against if as well if permitted to do so.
The Minister is so anxious about this Bill that he broke every rule in the book when he came in here one day, sitting in the second row, reached forward and pressed the voting button of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, and he got away with it. Had I or Deputy Michael Healy-Rae done that we would be on every news programme in the world about what kind of criminals we were, but the Minister, because he is Minister Ross, got away with it. Whatever happens with this Bill, we will continue to go after Deputy Ross because that was illegal. Regardless of whether he is a Minister or Lord Ross or whatever he is called, in doing that he broke every rule in the book.
There is great discretion with the amendments but it is not that wide.
What he is saying is factual.
The Deputy should speak to the amendments.
We will be challenging it because it was an illegal vote. The Minister might be laughing now but we will challenge it as far as we can. The Minister does not seem to care. He is on some kind of a crusade, some kind of a power ego trip, to get this Bill through. However, he does not realise he is hurting honest, good living people. I am speaking for Kerry. Every other Deputy can speak for their own rural area because people in those areas will be hurt too. No accidents or fatalities were caused by people in the 50 mg to 80 mg bracket. The Minister needs to realise what he is doing. He does not realise how the people of rural Ireland have to manage, where a car is everything. Under this legislation a person found to be 5 mg over the 50 mg permitted will be put off the road for three months. The person's employer may not wait and the children may not be able to go to school. It will make a vast difference and rural Ireland will never again be the same after the Minister, with the support of Fine Gael, enacts this legislation.
Rural Ireland is being hit. Since I came up here there has been so much talk about what the Government will do for rural Ireland. This Bill is another way in which it is hurting rural Ireland. All people in rural Ireland asked for is to be left alone but they are not being left alone. They are being targeted by so many other different things, and now the Minister is targeting them. I know they never did anything wrong to the Minister and they never would. This Bill will hurt them for ever more. Ye threw it at us that it was fostering or aiding and abetting public houses. However, I am after outlining to the Minister that it will affect people who visit friends and neighbours across their parish and locally. This legislation will hurt them because they will not even be able to have one bottle of beer while having a conversation. All of that is gone forever.
On the roads I am talking about, the most speed a person can do is 20 miles per hour in second or third gear. There will be no car ahead or behind you. On the first day I went to the committee that was discussing this Bill I made the Minister aware that farmers have only one vehicle. They either have a van, a jeep or a small tractor yet they are being treated the same as a professional driver in terms of the 20 mg limit. I am asking the Minister to do something about this.
I ask that something be done at least to bring them up out of that bracket because they are treated the very same as an articulated truck driver or a professional bus driver doing the maximum speed on the motorway. Even though they may only have a small jeep, a small van or a small tractor, their limit is 21 mg. This is the way they are being treated by the law. People are also being told that if they use their commercial van for private purposes, for example, to go to mass, and they are caught, the law will be applied forcefully. The person is supposed to have what is known as private tax on the van. If the person is caught using the van or jeep for his or her private business, such as going shopping, going to mass or any social event, the person is supposed to have private tax on the vehicle which costs about three times more. If, however, the person is caught in the same van with 21 mg of alcohol in their blood, he or she will be put off the road. I asked the Minister to do something about this and he said he would look at it, but he did not do anything about it. All the Minister is interested in is putting people off the road. I do not support this Bill because it will not help to reduce accidents.
There are myriad things that would help, with the support of the Minister. As I came to the Dáil yesterday, I noticed a branch hanging over the road between Mallow and Kildorrery. It will fall down onto somebody. I have told the Minister about this stretch of road before. It is in a very precarious state. The branch is not very big, but if it hit a woman who might be travelling along the road with her children, she would be killed. She would then be a statistic. The Minister just does not care. He could have had something done about the trees since the recent terrible storms by making a law to help landowners who cannot actually go out on the road for fear of being blown off it. The local authorities, the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, farmers and landowners should work together to ensure that nothing falls onto the traffic travelling on the road. That type of situation can kill. The Minister, however, has no interest in that. All he wants to do is paralyse these grand people in rural Ireland and put them off the road.
It looks like the Minister is getting his way because he has the support of Fine Gael. We do not know about the others. Sinn Féin supports the Bill also, even though its members are elected by rural people. Sinn Féin will have to answer when they call to people's doors. I would advise those Deputies not to bring the Minister with them because they will not get very much support. Having supported the Minister, I do not know what would happen those parties. I do not wish bad to anyone but I guarantee that those Deputies should not appear behind the Minister because he is not welcome in many places around rural Kerry. This will hurt-----
I am going down there next week, with some good news.
The Minister of State, Deputy McGrath, went to Korea and maybe he got a result because that chubby lad and President Trump are hugging each other now. Maybe the Minister of State had something to do with it.
The Taoiseach would not let them go.
I would not have stopped them from going anywhere.
On a one-way ticket.
The Minister has said that he is colour blind. I hope he told the licensing authority that because if he has not done so, he will not be insured in a car he might drive. Perhaps now that he is a Minister with his own driver, he does not care about having a licence or not, but fine for him if he does. I put it to the Minister and to all the Deputies in the Chamber that this is the most serious blow to rural Ireland and to people who just cannot manage without a car. If they lose their licence, they will be stranded at home and will be lonelier than ever. I do not believe this will save one life. This is my honest humble belief. A pint or a half pint is certainly not dangerous and people could be under 80 mg. They kind of say that they know that anyway when one looks at England, the North of Ireland and France. Deputy Troy referred to states in America which allow over 80 mg, but we in Ireland are guinea pigs: "Let us test these fellas out and put them off the road; these fellas do not matter."
Reference was made to rural transport and that the Minister would propose the operation of 36 or 38 buses in rural parts of the State. I put it to the Minister that 36 buses or taxis would not do a quarter of Kerry, not to mind the rest of the country. The Minister is only trying to cod the people. That is not what he is actually doing. The people of Ireland know, and the people in rural Ireland know, they are being militated against and that there is no necessity whatsoever for this Bill.
One of my amendments provides that the three penalty points would remain but that if a person was caught or detected in the bracket of 50 mg to 80 mg, he or she would be obliged to undertake ten driving lessons with a qualified driving instructor. This would be beneficial because drivers everywhere need to do refresher courses to keep up with new legislation and new ideas. This measure could benefit people in rural areas. Some people may not come into towns or cities often and it would bring them up to speed about new laws, new systems, new ways of driving and so on. I will be moving that amendment.
The Rural Independent Group members have different amendments. Deputies Mattie McGrath and Michael Collins will deal with amendments Nos. 14 and 17. My amendment is amendment No. 15. It would be beneficial, if we were to go down this route and in the spirit of improvement, for drivers who are detected to have to do ten driving lessons with a qualified instructor. The Minister's proposal for an NCT for tractors will hurt so many people. He has angered and aggravated many people by what he has proposed. I do not know where the Minister is getting his ideas from but if it is from the Department, it is to be regretted. I believe the Minister is on a crusade of his own with regard to the new drink driving penalty. This is to be regretted. No one in any Department, or in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, could suggest it so it must be the Minister's own idea. Given what the Minister did with the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone's voting button, it proves that he is very anxious to get this over the line.
A great many cyclists are killed. In the Heritage Bill, we ask that roadside hedges are kept cut all year round because people use the roads all year round. The hedges and briars prevent cyclists and walkers from keeping close to the ditches. In Dublin, there are motorways and the roads are wide. Where I come from, a 3 m road width is about what one gets in the rural countryside and maybe less at times. When the hedge growth goes beyond the yellow line, people are practically walking in the middle of the road and if it is after nightfall and is dark, then pedestrians and cyclists are killed. There is no attempt by the Minister and no interest on his part. The Minister should be the first to go into the Joint Committee on Rural and Community Development to suggest doing something to support us when we look to get these roadside hedges cut, and to keep them cut all year round. There is no accountability. He was out somewhere in the middle of Dublin calling me, Danny Healy-Rae, and his gang terrorists. There is a drainage programme but there is nothing about ponding water, which is taking roads completely over. People are being killed in those instances too. When they meet another car and there is a lake of water in the middle of the road, and one is doing 40 mph or 50 mph, one cannot then see where one is because 20 gallons of water might have gone up on the windscreen. Nothing is being done about that, even on national primary roads. I could take the Minister around Kerry but I will not. He will have to make it himself.
I could go on for the next 20 hours because the Minister is hurting so many people. There is no need for it. He will achieve nothing by it. It is an ego trip by the Minister so that in 20 years' time, he can say Shane Ross did this. That is what he will have to his name. I have talked so much about this because in my heart, I feel strongly about it and regret what he is doing. I will also regret that it will have been in my time here that this happened. I will say to the people of Kerry and all over the rural parts of Ireland that it was not for want of trying. The Minister has the votes and will win it unless he changes his hat or direction and I do not think he will do that. It was not for want of me fighting the Minister. I am sorry that the people of rural Ireland will be hurt. The Minister is the man who is stopping them from having one and a half pints. He is the man who thought of it and Fine Gael supported him. I will never forgive the Minister for it. The people of Kerry will never forgive him and the people in rural Ireland who have no other way to travel but their car will never forget him for it. He will be remembered for that. I do not appreciate it.
I call Deputy Catherine Murphy.
I am a member of the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport. We did some pre-legislative scrutiny of this Bill and had the Road Safety Authority appear before us. I attended those pre-legislative scrutiny meetings with an open mind on this issue. Many things that people expressed about it show that it is a big deal. I understand that it is a big deal to change that sanction. I understand that is a change in sanction, as opposed to a new sanction. I was impressed with the Road Safety Authority. We got a regulatory impact assessment and we considered what options might be recommended regarding this aspect and others. We also heard from the person who did the analysis behind the statistics we have been given. I thought it must have been pretty difficult for the person doing that work because she was not looking at dry statistics but was looking at the inquests from all cases where there had been a fatality. She read through the details of all of those. The reports were subsequently compiled on the basis of not just numbers, but real people who had lost their lives. Between 2008 and 2012, 16 people, or 6%, were killed in collisions where drivers or motorcyclists had a recorded blood alcohol content, BAC, of between 50 mg and 80 mg. That is 16 people who lost their lives. While people say it will not impact on people, it might not impact on millions, thousands or even dozens of people, but it will certainly impact profoundly on people who are alive today who we want to keep alive. It is never nice to have to add sanctions and put restrictions on people because it is a curtailment of freedom but people have a right to feel safe on the roads and we have a responsibility to make sure that whatever we do keeps them as safe as we possibly can on the roads.
The RSA document states:
The stark reality behind the statistics and one of the hardest things for victims and their families to deal with is that drink driving does not happen by chance. Sadly it happens by choice.
The literature on the effects of alcohol on driving is extensive and consistent. Alcohol in almost any amount impairs driving or driving-related skills. In 1998 and 2000, 117 studies and 112 studies, respectively, were reviewed in reports by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the USA. The results of the reviews can be summarised by a finding from the 1998 report, which states there is no lower threshold below which impairment does not exist for alcohol, which is of course a sedative. I was concerned and teased out some of the figures relating to the morning after people had been out for a night out. That often involves home drinking and measures are not the same. It is almost safer for people to be in pubs because people do not tend to use measures and things in the same way as they would in pubs. We teased that out. I was concerned that that was unfair on people. We were told that 14% of all alcohol-related fatal crashes happen between 6 a.m. and 12 noon. Some 15% of all alcohol-related fatal crashes involving a driver or motorcycle rider happen between 6 a.m. and 12 noon. Where there is a slight variation there, it is directly related to drivers or motorcycle riders.
I acknowledge the committee did not produce a report in which there was an agreed recommendation but we gave this quite detailed scrutiny. Many of us who went in with an open mind felt that we were convinced. I certainly felt convinced by the road safety aspects that we heard and I thought the pre-legislative scrutiny was quite useful from that point of view. It gave us access to people who are charged with considering these matters and recommending changes. There is an interesting point which I referred to before and will refer to again about public support.
Behaviour & Attitudes conducted a face-to-face barometer survey with a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults in January 2017. Some 91% of Irish motorists surveyed supported any driver caught over the drink-driving limit being automatically disqualified from driving, with 61% of those who indicated support believing the driver should be disqualified for more than 12 months. The Bill does not do that but there is a higher sanction for a greater threshold. Some 89% of adults in urban areas and 93% of those in rural areas indicated support for any driver caught over the drink-driving limit being automatically disqualified from driving. Public attitudes on this issue have been clearly tested.
I listened to some of the descriptions of Kerry and how it does not have amenities and so on. I was in Kerry for a few days last year and was very impressed with the wonderful amenities there. It does the county no service to run it down in the manner we have heard in the past few minutes. Kildare has two public swimming pools for a county of 220,000 people. When anyone asks me where the swimming pool for north Kildare is, I tell them it is in Kerry, which has four public swimming pools. One was closed because there were not enough people to support it. I ask the Minister, Deputy Ross, to note that argument.
The people of Kildare are welcome in Kerry any time at all.
The idea that certain parts of Ireland are well provided for because they are close to cities or are in commuter belt areas is inaccurate. It does no service to Kerry to represent it in the manner we have heard. There was a contrast between an acknowledgement by one of the Deputies from Kerry of the improvement in roads and the opposite being said by another.
I was on the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport for pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill and was open minded and listened to the facts. We should base our legislation, regulations and road safety on evidence. The committee received that evidence and found it convincing. The measures in the Bill may not be measures one likes to put in place but they must be implemented in the interests of public and road safety. For that reason, I will be opposing the amendment tabled by Deputy Troy.
I remind Members that the Bill has been recommitted to Committee Stage and there should be no repetition.
I am very happy to have the opportunity to speak on the Bill and the amendments thereto. It addresses many matters of importance. It deals with very sensitive matters and I commiserate with anyone who has lost a loved one in a road tragedy. I have encountered many families so affected in my work and have seen the devastating effects road deaths have on families and communities.
In the context of the Bill, in the past week I have been described as being part of a team called a disgrace and might have been described as being part of a team who were called terrorists. That was said in the belief that I am trying to block the Bill. I have spoken on the Bill for 16 minutes since Christmas. Surely to God, if we live in a democracy Members should be allowed to speak for 16 minutes on legislation that will have serious effects on my community and neighbouring communities.
Although I will not go into detail on the remark accusing me of being a terrorist because I do not think it was directed at me, I did look up the dictionary definition of a terrorist. It is defined as being a person who uses unlawful violence. It is astonishing that, if that allegation is correct, a Deputy was called a terrorist but that is an issue between the Deputy's legal team and the person who called him that. I am not a disgrace for speaking on this very important issue for 16 minutes since Christmas. The person who called us that is abusing her position. She was an elected representative in this Dáil many years ago and, surely to God, she spoke for 16 minutes on various issues. Perhaps she did not and that is why she lost her position. That is another day's work.
I have asked whether the Bill and amendments have been rural proofed. That is of great importance. The programme for Government commits to rural-proofing of legislation and that is very important in respect of this Bill. The Government is obliged to consider the effects that any new legislation would have on rural Ireland: would it damage rural Ireland or make the lives of people there better?
I am concerned that the Bill would have a damaging effect on many living in rural Ireland, in particular young people who are trying to hold down jobs there and their parents, who the Minister is threatening to criminalise. This is a very anti-rural Bill and could be extremely damaging to rural Ireland. Young people have to wait for up to seven or eight months, or longer, to get a driving test in rural Ireland. Many such people live in rural areas in which there are few or no daily bus services. In order to get to work, many have no choice but to use a motor vehicle as their means of transport. However, the Bill provides that if they drive without being accompanied by a qualified driver, their parents or the owner of the car could be guilty of a criminal offence. I suggest to the Minister that the Bill be modified to allow learner drivers awaiting their test to drive to and from their place of work without criminalising their parents. That would mean that young people who had not passed their test could not use a car for social or entertainment travel but could do so to travel to and from work.
As I have previously highlighted, several other measures could be put in place which could make driving by younger people safer. For example, speed limiters would limit the top speed at which a car could travel and might improve public safety. These are small measures that perhaps should have been considered before the dramatic solution was decided upon.
I have previously raised the poor condition of our roads and the serious accidents and deaths caused as a result. Last summer, two American tourists were killed at Waterloo junction on the Cork to Mallow road. It is a dangerous junction and road signage might be an issue there. Last week, another tourist had a very serious accident at that junction. In spite of the pleas from many quarters, nothing was done. What steps were taken to make that junction safer in the past nine months?
In my constituency, tens of thousands of euro will be spent on installing beautiful sculptures on the Halfway roundabout on the Cork to Bandon road. That will presumably be funded by Transport Infrastructure Ireland. Sculptures are lovely but of greater importance to my constituents is that the roundabout is the gateway to south west Cork. Many people are asking why money is being spent on the roundabout while the wheels, tyres and shocks of motorists' cars are being damaged by potholes only a mile or two beyond it, and throughout west Cork. Who authorised payment for that sculpture but will not sanction money to save lives on our roads? That is a very important question which must be answered so that I can relay that to the people of south west Cork. A footpath is being installed around the roundabout even though no one would consider walking anywhere near it because they would be blown off the road as it is a busy roundabout. I do not know how many tens of thousands of euro it will cost. It might cost a few hundred thousand euro but that does not seem to matter. There is money for sculptures but no money to repair potholes, whether on roads in Bandon, Clonakilty, Drimoleague, Dunmanway, Bantry or on the way down to Mizen Head. There is no need to worry about that.
It is only a few potholes.
That is just one example of road conditions leading to deaths, but road conditions throughout rural Ireland are appalling. That has been mentioned here time and again by other Deputies. The fund being put in place is totally inadequate. Why does the Government not ask each county council to furnish a realistic estimate of the cost of ensuring that there are safe and drivable conditions on the roads within their counties? We could ask Transport Infrastructure Ireland to do the same for the roads for which it is responsible in each county. That could be done quickly and would highlight for the Government the inadequacy of the current funding. Instead of throwing money at, say, a sculpture, it is time to look at the bypass in Bandon or try to better the environment in places. We should stop wasting money. If we spend it sensibly first, we could then consider the provision of sculptures. I have no doubt that if road conditions improved, the number of serious accidents and deaths would definitely fall.
The Minister mentioned last week that he appointed to the board of the Road Safety Authority, RSA, relatives whose loved ones were killed on our roads. They are the right people to be on that board but does the Minister have the authority to appoint such people? I stand open to correction in respect of this matter. I will need to listen to the recording of last week's proceedings. I did not have time to do so, but it is astonishing that the Minister can appoint people to boards when he is trying to stop politicians appointing members of the Judiciary to boards. While the Minister, or somebody else, was correct to have those people on the board, people have been killed due to the condition of our roads. Are their loved ones on the board of the RSA? People have been killed by falling trees on our roads. Are their loved ones on the board? Those are extremely important issues also. Everybody should have an equal voice on the board, or is the Minister just choosing people from one sector? Those people need to have a voice on the board but so do others. I would like the Minister to clarify the position. I will listen to the recording because if the Minister has the authority to appoint members to the board, that is a dangerous move. We need clarification on that.
I have spoken on many aspects of this Bill and I will not spend much more time discussing them. Everybody knows my views on rural isolation and our elderly people and many others who used to enjoy having a social drink. Thankfully, they came from and returned to their homes safely all their lives. It appears that is coming to an end, with nothing being put in place to ensure that those people will not suffer from serious rural isolation or mental health issues. I do not see anything coming forward in this regard but I hope the Minister can correct me on that also.
I have spoken on the Heritage Bill and verge cutting. All those issues are extremely important and are a major cause of stress for people driving on the roads in the current conditions. At various crossroads in west Cork in June or July, whether it be on the Mizen Peninsula, the Beara Peninsula or the beautiful Sheep's Head Peninsula, most cars are out in the middle of the road before they can be seen. The number of accidents, near accidents or near-death incidents is astonishing. People who are trying to cycle or walk have to go out into the middle of the road because we are not allowed cut the verges. Those areas need to be looked at seriously to make sure that every aspect of people's lives are catered for.
The section on cycling has been removed. I am delighted because I had serious concerns in that regard. There are many cycling clubs in my area and the members are great people who promote events in their communities. They were talking about requiring motorists to give cyclists a 1.5 m clearance when passing from the rear. I think Deputy Troy was bringing that in but I have to disagree with it because it would mean that if I was to abide by the rules in my area, I would have to go over the ditch and drive through the fields to get around somebody on a bicycle. That was never going to work. My daughter, Eileen, lives in Ballinalee, County Longford, which is in Deputy Troy's constituency. It would not work on the roads in that area either because they are in the same condition as those in my constituency in west Cork.
I could be here talking about this Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill for the next hour. I have very serous concerns about it. I know what it will do to the people of rural Ireland. I would like the Minister to do a serious audit on the way money is spent in his Department. Some spending can be wise in ways but it is definitely not enough, particularly when it comes to sculptures. I will give the Minister one example. I was in Lyre in Clonakilty, last Sunday and I looked at the bridge where the residents of 20, 25 or 30 houses are able to travel to and fro on that section of road. That bridge was damaged by a storm in 2013, which was no fault of the Minister, and it was closed. There is no money to fix it so the residents now have to travel four or five miles on a round trip away from it. The point I am making is that the Minister should forget about the sculptures and put the money he has available to him into fixing bridges and roads.
I would be cautious about bringing the Minister down to my area again. I brought him down last year but there are many people who are very angry because they did not hear back from him. He saw the scandalous condition of our roads. I mentioned it on a radio programme the other day and I received a telephone call from somebody telling me that I was a disgrace. I told the individual that people in my community had to drive on the wrong side of the road when they are going to work in the morning to avoid the poor conditions on the N7, which they have to use. One gentleman told me that if he drives on the right side of the road, the tools in the back of his van end up partly in the front of it. There is no money for repairing the road but hundreds of thousands of euro have been spent on sculptures. That road is in a bad state. The Minister was in my car when the bottom of it walloped off the road. That road has not been touched since and has got worse. I know that if people travel that road on the proper side, it will lead to a loss of life. However, the Minister does not have that statistic with him tonight. Sadly, the statistics the Minister has are driven by people who should be examining all the issues.
We should consider the state of the roads following the flooding events we have experienced. Some of the roads have been trounced with water. There is no drainage and no funding to drain away the water. We no longer have roadside workers because there are no funds to pay them. The local authority received 700 applications in respect of a recent advertisement. I would like to know how many jobs are being offered; perhaps it is two or three. In some cases, people should travel the roads on a boat and not a car but, again, that problem will go unheeded.
As I said at the outset, the Minister should stand by the Constitution and treat everybody in this country alike. I do not appreciate being called a disgrace but I suppose I have been called worse. I certainly do not like my fellow Deputies being called terrorists. The Deputies I know would not hurt a fly. They are decent, respectable people. I would be surprised if whoever said it stooped to that level. We might tell people they are wrong or whatever but we do not call people disgusting names. As I said to the Minister, a terrorist is a person who engages in violence. I am sorry but that is not anyone I know.
The next speaker on my list is Deputy Fitzmaurice. I remind Deputies that we are in a recommittal process and are discussing 19 amendments. All I ask is that we do not have repetition.
I have submitted amendments to the Bill, as have Deputies Troy and Danny Healy-Rae. If he reads them, the Minister will see that they contain many common-sense proposals. There is also compromise in the amendments tabled. We should be clear on one aspect.
The reason these amendments have been submitted is that in parts of rural Ireland the nearest taxi service is 15 miles or 20 km away. There is no rural bus but people need transport to get from A to B. The amendments refer to certain things that are required to save people's lives, the first of which is good roads. We are all aware that funding for rural roads has increased in the last two years by between 4% and 8% but it is still below what it was in 2008 under the last Fianna Fáil-led Government. Funding for such roads in Galway went down from €40 million to €19 million, which was a drastic cut. Whether one is a young driver or an elderly driver, one needs a proper road. There are potholes like craters on some rural roads and one would nearly lose a car in some of them but the Government does not seem to want to address that problem. That may be because it wants to get into people's heads and make them think that it has solved another problem but the fact is that if we do not have proper roads there will be major problems, regardless of whether people drink. That is chronic and it is not confined to the west of Ireland. It applies to all of Ireland. I have seen parts of Meath and God help the people who were trying to come out the roads up there. Of course, if the Government diverts attention away from that it is easier because addressing it costs money. It costs the Government money in a budget.
I notice that a few of the Minister's comrades were rolled out in recent days to attack individuals. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion and people can say what they want but if we brought drink down to zero right across Ireland this minute, what difference would it make? This Government and the previous one watched over a reduction in the traffic corps from 1,070 gardaí down to fewer than 600. Whoever did that is the terrorist, not those who were called such today. That decision was made for financial reasons. The previous Government had a massive majority and I was here for 14 months of that Dáil. Legislation was guillotined and rushed through this House in two hours. It was an awful pity that the head of the RSA did not get her Bill together at the time instead of coming out and criticising people during the week. They had the opportunity to do it.
At a meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport, I put forward proposals relating to young drivers and members from all sides agreed with me. I proposed that speed limiters would be put on their vehicles. The Minister might not understand lorries but those of us from the country understand them. If one is driving a lorry, there is a limiter on it and one can fix that limiter to whatever speed one wants. If the limiter is set at 30 km/h or 40 km/h, the engine will cut out above that speed. That would have been a solution or a step forward in terms of enabling youngsters to get insurance at a price they can afford.
Before introducing legislation with which people in rural parts of Ireland disagree, one needs to take proactive steps to make sure that people can live and survive. It is fine for those who have the DART, Luas and taxis available 24 hours a day. There used to be a programme on the television called "Come Live With Me". The Minister should come and live down the country and he will see the situation. A lot of mothers and fathers have youngsters going to college. Those in the south might be going to Cork or Kerry, those in the east might be going to Dublin, those in the midlands might be going to Athlone, those in the north might go to Letterkenny or Sligo and in the west, they might go to Castlebar, Galway or Limerick. The average wage for a farmer is €18,000 per year, which means that many are not able to pay €6,000 to €8,000 for accommodation for their youngsters. They are trying to make things better for them and some of them put their children on their insurance as a named driver.
When I was a youngster, we learned to drive in the fields. We had fields in rural Ireland and in summer time we put posts or cones in the field and learned how to drive. In that way, before we ever hit the road, we were well able to drive. It is not politically correct to say that anymore in this world. One is not supposed to be doing things like that but that is the reality. That is how most youngsters in rural Ireland learn how to drive and then, when they get their lessons, they have a feel for it. As they say down the country, they have "a feel for a yoke" and know how to handle it. People do not understand that.
There are compromises in what Deputy Troy has proposed in terms of increasing fines and penalty points. The Rural Independent group has also put forward compromises. Indeed, what I have put forward myself contains compromises to make sure that things are made better while not crucifying the people. When I talk about a compromise, I note that the State is good at making laws but is a youngster entitled to a test within six weeks? If the State has an obligation to provide that, in black and white, it cannot back out of that obligation. Unfortunately, however, there are parts of the country where the waiting time for a driving test is between four and six months. All one will hear from the people in charge is that they will recruit more testers. Where are the testers and why have they not been recruited? The reason is that they have to go through a process and it takes a good while.
Of course, we decide that we will introduce the laws before we solve the problems. Was there any bit of thinking by the Minister for Finance that before introducing this legislation publicans would be given a rebate on the duty paid on a car or a minibus? Was there any thinking about that, to try to go a step of the way in terms of helping? I heard this great brainwave out of the Government, that it was going to provide 35 buses around the country. There are 5,000 km of back roads and byroads in Galway. If one was to go around the villages between 9 p.m. and 12 a.m. to bring people to the different towns, villages or local pubs, one would not get to them all even if one was driving at the speed limit but the Government talks about 35 buses across Ireland. Whoever suggested that was not much of a mathematician.
In my opinion, gardaí are the secret to making sure roads are safe. It costs money to deploy gardaí, patrol cars and everything that goes with them. Unfortunately, people who have lost someone belonging to them are thinking tonight that this measure will solve something. It is a sad thing to say, but my belief is that the limit can be reduced to zero and it will not make a difference unless Garda numbers are increased again. The Government is getting inside people's heads to make sure they believe something will be solved even though it will not. We expect to have safer roads even though the number of traffic corps gardaí has decreased by almost 50%. They are good people, but with the best will in the world there is not a hope they can do what they are supposed to do.
During the week, people were rolled out to hit those of us who are going through the democratic process. They did so by suggesting that this legislation is being filibustered. I am sure that as a public representative, I am as entitled as anyone else who has been elected to this House to table amendments and speak on any legislation, such as the Bill we were debating before we moved onto this Bill. If the Government is seriously concerned about this issue, why did it leave the Minister, Deputy Ross, in the lurch for nine months? He was not allowed to come near this issue in the absence of any commitment from the Government. Some people do not want to see that. When this legislation was introduced, it was made known to us that further sections would have to be added to it, which meant there would have to be a recommittal. It might be no harm for that to be acknowledged.
I would like to speak about the big problem that ordinary folk out there see with the Government. People never mind change as long as the path is resolved ahead of it. In this House, we are mighty at bringing in rules but we are very poor at bringing in solutions. We do not seem to want to solve things. What are we going to say to the youngsters on apprenticeships about whom Deputy Danny Healy-Rae spoke? How will we make sure people on low incomes are catered for? We will hear the usual palaver to the effect that they can get grants. They can get grants if they are eligible - for sure - but they will have to wait from September to Christmas for payments to be made. That is the first thing. They will have to live on fresh air for a while. The second thing is the cost of accommodation for youngsters whose parents are trying to make sure they get a better life.
As I have said previously, I am all for youngsters being able to do intensive weekend or two-day courses in places like Mondello Park and get certificates when they are finished. There could be a place in the north, a place in the south, a place in Munster, a place in the west and a place in Ulster. I could go out on a road this minute with a digger and swing it around as long as I had done a one-day course. Cars could go up and down by me and it would be fine, as long as I had done a full weekend and someone had said I was fit to drive it. I am not talking about going out in a vehicle like this without being fit to drive it and doing lessons. Why are we trying to make criminals out of young people and their fathers and mothers? Do we take pleasure in telling people who are struggling that we will bang them up? To be honest, I do not take pleasure in doing that.
I ask the Deputy whose phone is vibrating to switch it off.
Reference has been made to cyclists. Everyone respects cyclists, but we need to have a common-sense approach to all of this. Deputies might not be aware that there is machinery in rural parts of Ireland that is 7 ft. or 8 ft. wide. A mower might be 10 ft. wide. Someone driving one of these vehicles might struggle to go down a road, even if he or she does not meet anyone on the road. If we tell such a driver to keep 1.5 m away from someone, he or she will have to bust ditches in everyone's fields to get down the road. This is an example of the stupidity of people who do not understand that a motorway is one width and a secondary road is another width. A bóithrín might be just 2.5 m in width. If it is 3 m in width, it is nearly a wide one. Many of them are 10 ft in width. We are talking about machinery going down such roads. To put it very simply, any low loader is 8 ft wide. One uses one's head when one meets such a vehicle coming along the road. One stands and one allows them to go by. There is no need to put rules on such encounters. One does not drive on in a way that means the driver of the other vehicle has to go up on top of a ditch. We cannot legislate for some of this stuff. Those who are used to driving on the N11, where there is a lot of traffic and many cyclists, should be aware that they will not see roads of the same width when they travel to other parts of the country. We have to make sure we do not get carried away with ourselves. When we go on a roll with things in here, it can be like a wave bringing us along. Sometimes we have to make a stand and show some common sense.
My amendment and that of Deputy Troy are quite similar. I have no problem if his amendment is taken first or is given precedence because it has been tabled on the same basis. We are saying that the fine and the number of penalty points should be increased. We have to be mindful of the amount of rural isolation that has unfortunately developed. It is biggest issue I have with this Bill. There are many elderly people in rural areas. They are lovely people who worked throughout their lives. When I speak to them, they tell me they like to go to the local pub to have a chat with everyone over two little glasses. I was talking on Sunday to a person who came to Dublin with me. He went to a pub with his brother, who had gone away for a good few years. He looked back at his brother and he said that publicans here should be paid for what they are doing in addition to selling drink. He responded by asking: "Are you off your head or what is wrong with you?" The people in that pub probably saw nobody all week before they came in to have a little chat. The word "inclusion" comes to mind. There are day care centres doing great work in a similar vein, but Saturday or Sunday night is the night. It is not as if these people are going to the pub seven nights a week.
I worked in pubs when I was a youngster to keep myself in pocket money. I served people who used to go through everything that was happening in the country. When the 9 o'clock news came on, they asked for silence. That was their life. They were happy. The problem now is that they are afraid when they hear of the likes of this. Their fear is the fear of what might happen. I think it is sad. I was talking to an 85 year old person the other day. He told me he can go nowhere now. It is probably a sad reflection.
If the Minister does not want such people to go anywhere in their cars, we should at least make sure that before we put that fear into them, we provide a solution so they can say this new thing is great or the man in the pub will bring them home. That is the problem. The Minister might ask why the Government should provide a rebate on vehicle registration tax. Some of them provide a service as two, three or four people in a rural pub would hardly pay for the electricity bill, never mind make money. Those people in the evenings open up. Anybody in any part of rural Ireland sees this. From Monday to Thursday, at least, those publicans do a service for their community by opening. They might make a few pounds on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night but if there are two or three people looking in, they will not make money. It is something we do not appreciate.
If we had a system to offer people something, there would be some bit of hope in trying to resolve the matter. The Minister should bear in mind what I said earlier about the taxis being 15 miles away. If a person rings a taxi and tells that driver to pick up Johnny in the pub, who is on his own 15 miles away, what would it cost? More people will now drink at home and end up not talking to anybody. In fairness, in rural parts of the country we are trying to get people to go to different places for social inclusion.
What has been threatened for young drivers should be wiped away. I do not know why we must be heavy-handed in threatening decent people who never put a foot wrong in their life with jail. I heard a new idea from an insurance company for drivers of facing down their phones in exchange for an incentive. It is proactive and it will probably help. The company monitors phone use and people can gather points in exchange for a discount in insurance. Fair play to whoever is doing it. Speed limiters were also suggested but nobody bothered with them. That process might be trickier but if insurance companies had been consulted, they would have helped. In fairness to youngsters, they are proactive.
The Minister might think this is a vendetta by eight or ten Deputies but it is not. Our job is to listen to what we hear on the ground. It is about representing what we hear and being a Teachta Dála is to be the voice of the people. We are hearing that the heavy hand is coming at rural Ireland every day of the week. Unfortunately, it is putting people into their own homes morning, noon and night. It appears they should stay there. There is a fear of somebody catching them at night or the following morning, which is the problem. Solutions needed to be added to this before this legislation was introduced. I suppose when one does not live in the environment where solutions are needed, they will not come. When one sees a bus flying up and down the road until midnight or 1 a.m., one probably does not know what it is to be without a bus.
The Leas-Cheann Comhairle said we are discussing amendments Nos. 4 to 21, inclusive. I will support many of them. I know the Minister will table an amendment relating to young drivers and my understanding is they will not be jailed or the car will not be taken from them. What else will not be done? Will those drivers still be done despite the State failing to give them a test? That needs to be clarified. There are people living in different parts of the country and I hope we do not put more fear into them.
I have some final comments. The Minister may bring in all the legislation in the world he wants in any Department but the bottom line is it costs the Government if it wants to enforce that legislation. It costs the Government because of policing. It is no good telling somebody we brought something down or people are off the road if there is nobody to look for them. The Government and its predecessor have failed to sustain the numbers in the traffic corps. The Government might be trying to kid the people but it will not kid everyone.
I will not endorse any form of filibustering and I will only take a few minutes. It is my first time to address this Bill and I will only speak to one point in support of Deputy Robert Troy's comments this evening and over the past number of months. I do not sit on the transport committee or anything like that.
I am no different from any of the other rural Deputies who have come before the Minister to speak. I will keep this short and sweet. Living in rural Ireland, we do not have footpaths or a taxi service, as Deputy Fitzmaurice said. The nearest taxi service to me, believe it or not, is either Ballinasloe or Loughrea. I do not have a taxi service within 25 miles. I do not endorse drink-driving by any manner or means but when the Government wants to bring about provisions like this, supports and services must be put in place first. If we are to follow this through, enforcement will be required but there are not enough personnel on the ground to ensure it can be followed through. Legislation is worthless unless everything is in place to support it. I am referring to the traffic corps, gardaí and community policing, which are scant in my area. In order for Galway to be at a basic minimum, 40 more gardaí are required. That information is not mine but I got it through parliamentary questions in the past two weeks.
I support what my colleague, Deputy Troy, has put before the Minister this evening. It is unfortunate that he has not taken the measure on board and we did not start with compromise by going from three penalty points to five points and a €200 fine to a €500 fine. While we would get the results of such measures, we could have been bringing up the levels of gardaí and putting in the required infrastructure to support the people living in rural Ireland. We have spoken about rural isolation and mental health. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the time to speak.
Like Deputy Rabbitte I will speak in favour of Deputy Troy's amendments. We will not be successful in getting the Minister to see common sense. None of us on this side of the House condones drink-driving and one life lost in an accident is one life too many. Proper policing of the existing laws is required. If a person is caught going 5 km/h over the speed limit, he or she does not see the same penalties or fines as somebody driving 70 km/h or 80 km/h over the limit.
A loss of a licence for a person in rural Ireland in many cases leads to a loss of a job.
Their licence is their livelihood. The Minister, Deputy Ross, has managed single-handedly to put the fear of God into most of rural Ireland. Rural isolation and mental health issues will be compounded by this Bill being forced through. We spoke earlier on a mental health Bill introduced by Deputy Browne. Unfortunately, we are going to see more consumption of alcohol at home. The whole social fabric that we know in rural Ireland will be decimated.
The Minister is the man who will close the door on rural pubs. The Minister has mentioned filibustering and the talk about alternative transport is most definitely it. There is no alternative way to get home in rural Ireland. I appeal to the rural Independents supporting the Government and rural Fine Gael Deputies, who know what they are doing is wrong, to vote with their conscience. They should do the right thing and support Deputy Robert Troy's amendments. If these increased fines and penalty points were introduced and properly policed, we would have a common-sense solution.
What the Minister is forcing through shows his lack of understanding of rural Ireland and the way it operates. This is not Stepaside. There are not three or four alternative ways of getting home. We have a lot of elderly people who have made up their minds that they will not go to the pub anymore. That is a sad day. These are common-sense amendments. Even at this 11th hour, I appeal to the Minister to see sense and bring in the changes we propose as with extra policing, we would achieve the aim we want.
Like Deputy Rabbitte, I am not on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport. I felt these issues should be left to those on that committee. Listening to the debate tonight, I felt I would be a hypocrite if I did not make a contribution. As someone who takes a drink, I will let the drinker who is without sin cast the first stone. The whole issue here centres on responsibility. Young people are setting a trend. If one goes into one's local pub there is a designated driver. A sensible approach in the main has been taken. I acknowledge there are always those who will flout the law.
The debate tonight, however, centres on the issue of the penalty. I am, like Deputy Cahill and as the Minister is aware, of the view that politics is about the art of compromise. I believe Deputy Robert Troy's amendment of five penalty points and a €500 fine would set a trend that is a compromise between automatic disqualification and the current three penalty points and €200 fine. We should see how that pans out. It would be unrealistic if we did not listen to the advice of those who know that impairment - and I know it myself as does anybody who takes a drink - is affected by body mass, what one has eaten etc. and will dictate the ability to drive. Ultimately, the 50 mg blood alcohol level is recognised by all of the proposals on the table.
There would be a continuation for those who are not in a position to get a taxi for €5 home within urban and some rural areas. That would be in the interests of rural communities. Others have alluded to rural isolation and the need for people to socialise. Isolation is where one will not get a taxi at a late hour at night. It is wrong to penalise those people. However, setting the marker a little bit higher with five penalty points and a €500 fine, as proposed by Deputy Troy, is a reasonable compromise. It accepts that drink does kill. I mentioned the word "responsibility". The vast majority of people out there are responsible in their drinking habits. At this late hour, there is room for compromise. I encourage the Minister to accept Deputy Robert Troy's amendment.
The last time I spoke on this Bill was on 8 December 2017. That night, one of the oldest rural pubs in north Cork, the Function Bar, closed. That bar made its living out of people who drove to the pub and had a couple of drinks. They did not pass any other pub. These people have since been left in rural isolation. They are the older generation, not the young generation.
I speak tonight on the original Bill. I will not make any comments on the amendments being brought forward, even though the Bill has been turned into a cocktail for the want of a better word. The Minister is the man who came out with a knee-jerk reaction over a year and a half ago when there were many tragedies and road fatalities. I accept there were but the Minister decided to go after the social drinkers and take them out of the equation. There was no thought whatsoever. The Minister took the soft option.
The Minister is attacking us as filibustering. We are not. He has had the legislation and the paperwork in his Department for a year and half now. It typifies the Minister. He is being inactive in his Department. He has failed to get work done. As he said at the recent Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport, he does not get involved in direct activity in his Department. I refer to his comments in respect to the sports capital grant applications. He said that he threw any letter he got from politicians with representations into the bin. By God, he is probably right because that is the way it worked out. Luckily, those people who made applications in my area made good applications and were successful.
The Minister is inactive. I say that strongly. There have been many other issues in his Department where he has been found to be hands-off, such as when the road hauliers looked for a derogation on the axle issue. The big issue was Ireland's Rugby World Cup bid and getting us onto the playing field. He made no attempt at all to get us a few votes across the water. The only place he succeeded was in England. He could not even sway the Scottish. The Minister got away with murder on that issue. A year and half year later, he is deriding us. Before I go any further, I want to say that I am not a terrorist. I read his recent comments in my newspaper, the Irish Examiner. If it is guilt by association, I will be known as a terrorist on the road. I am not a terrorist. I do not condone drunk-driving or excessive drink-driving. I want to emphasise that. The Minister is taking the heart out of rural Ireland. He could be taking the heart out of leafy Dublin or taking the heart out of suburban towns where they have no pubs within three quarters of a mile of the town centre where there are leafy suburbs. He is taking no consideration of that fact.
As I said to the Minister, he is the man who is doing the filibustering. If he was any good, he would have come here 12 months ago with proper legislation to allow us to debate it accurately on the main point. The Minister allowed people to come in with the 1.5 m rule for cyclists and the regulations for pedestrians to wear hoods and so on. I agreed with those but this legislation is different. It is unrelated and it deflects from what we are talking about tonight.
The Minister has had the proposal for over a year. Did the Minister look at any of the other issues when he reacted to this proposal on drink driving? Did he look at the issue of roads and the safety of junctions and so on? Many other issues and factors cause crashes. The Minister is the man with the cheque book. He is the man who can help rural Ireland and towns. He can help to alleviate the occurrence of crashes. The Minister can close his eyes, but I am disappointed that he has found this one point in his portfolio as Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to attack rural Ireland.
I have considered what the Minister is doing at the moment. The Minister has responsibility for sport as well. We have sports organised by the GAA and up to recently there were red cards and yellow cards. If a player received a red card, he was gone. Let us imagine the red card is the response to getting a drunk driver off the road. A yellow card, which is what we are talking about at the moment, gives a person a second chance. What the Minister is trying to do is to bring in a black card. On the GAA playing fields, the team gets another player, an alternative - in other words, there is a substitute. However, in this case, the Minister is providing no alternative for an innocent person who inadvertently might be over the limit in the morning. The Minister has provided no alternative for transport, whether bus, taxi drivers or a second driver. That is the big issue here. The Minister is trying to turn a yellow card into a black card without any proper consideration for the damage he will cause.
Reference was made to mental health. The Minister should think of peoples' careers and the knock-on effects this will cause for those who are put off the road. I hope that those who lose their jobs in such situations do not go further beyond the mental health problem - I say as much sincerely.
Last August, when people like us were saying the legislation should not be changed, the Minister came out with some of his pressure groups and threw it at people that they were the cause of people being killed. That is incorrect. The Minister went on about drunk drivers and that category of people and that was unfair. If a Palestinian throws a little scud over the border into Israel, the Minister and his cohorts come back like the Israelis with bombers. That is what the Minister comes back to us like. In other words, there is no proper balanced argument on the issue. That is why I am speaking tonight.
Since it is Committee Stage, the scope of debate is quite broad but I think we are going outside the parameters.
I am trying to make a point.
You are talking about Israel at this stage, Deputy.
I am trying to provide balanced opposition to what the Minister is throwing at those who do not support this legislation with regard to drink driving.
I do not want to filibuster but people forget. The Minister has amnesia. It is not only about the Minister as an Independent Minister. It is relevant for his coalition with the Fine Gael Party. The Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport is a former Chairman of the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport and oversaw a deliberation. Committee members met but the committee report was inconclusive on whether this law should be introduced. That is a fact. The Minister should read the statement. When the now Minister of State with responsibility for sport signed off on the report, it was inconclusive. We could not agree overall whether this legislation was necessary. That is a fact known to everyone in the House. I remind the Minister of that fact, but no one has taken account of it.
I have spoken already on this Bill but the Minister has done damage. I do not believe the Minister has any heart in rural Ireland or with the people. I am not asking the Minister to measure the drink that people should have; they should know what they can and cannot drink. I will not mention a half pint, one pint, a drop, a medium or whatever. That is not why I am here. I am simply asking the Minister to let the status quo stand and to support the Fianna Fáil amendment. It goes some way to saving the Minister's face, if he wants. That is the big issue here. I believe he is out of order by pursuing this issue with no proper background information.
I have asked the question umpteen times. The Minister said in his opening statement to the Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport that it was abused, yet he could not give me figures showing how many repeat offenders were in the category that he is trying to put off the road. The Minister said they were abusing it, but the figures for repeat offenders were not brought forward properly.
I appeal to the Minister to accept the Fianna Fáil amendment. It is a simple amendment and I believe it would save everyone in the House and be progressive. I appeal to the Minister. We have seen one rural pub going already in my back yard. I see pubs closing down every day. More important, the young people of today are a new breed but the Minister should not kill the dying breed.
Next is Teachta Mattie McGrath, who has not spoken already.
I too am pleased to be able to speak here tonight.
I do not need to advise you to refrain from repetition.
Déanfaidh mé mo dhícheall, an dtuigeann an Leas-Cheann Comhairle é sin?
Caithfidh an Teachta níos mó ná a dhícheall a dhéanamh.
Maith an fear. I have regarded the Minister as a friend of mine for many years but I am literally appalled at how the Minister has stooped to a new low in this Parliament in how he has described us. We are trying to represent our constituents as best we can. The Minister and the quango queen, Liz O'Donnell, came out last weekend, during the week and again today-----
I do not have to advise you, Deputy, that you should not mention the names of those who may have been here in the past but who are not here now.
She is a former Teachta Dála but she is chairperson of the Road Safety Authority. She took it upon herself to attack us for doing our duty.
I heard the interview.
Tuigeann an Leas-Cheann Comhairle an fáth go bhfuil mé ag rá é sin. She chose it. I did not mention her the last time I spoke so this is not repetition. This is the first time, an chéad uair.
The following comments were apparently made by the Minister today. I have seen them in the print media and other media as well: "A number of rural TDs have opposed the bill, saying it would damage rural areas, but Ross accused those TDs of behaving like road traffic terrorists." I call on the Minister calmly, coolly and collectively to reflect on that statement and have the dignity and good grace to withdraw it.
Dan Breen occupied the seat that I am in today for many years. He had it for decades in fact. He was called a terrorist. He had a sulky bulldog appearance and he fought for Irish freedom. That freedom means we are now elected to this Parliament today. He came in here most days, I am told, but I never heard that he came in without a six-gun. I do not carry a six-gun and neither do Deputies Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Healy-Rae, Michael Collins, Kevin O'Keeffe or any of the others. It is totally intemperate and disgusting language. Let us consider the connotation given to what is happening throughout the world with terrorism, such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. God knows what is happening, with buses and vans being driven on top of people and everything else, yet the Minister decides to equate us with such people by using that kind of language. I appeal to the Minister, and I appeal to the Taoiseach who appointed him and gave him the seal of office, to have the Minister restrained. Anyone who can should talk to him also because that was appalling. I am unsure whether it was a slip of the tongue or whatever but it was well-delivered and it looked like a press release to me.
If we are accused of filibustering, then so be it.
This is legislation in respect of which the Minister has engaged in filibustering. It is like he was making a rake of hay - he almost had the hay gathered when the wind came and scattered it. He scattered the Bill everywhere. In fact, he has used a blunderbuss instead of engaging in a filibuster. The Minister wanted to add in cyclists, those driving with L plates and God knows what else, and that is what delayed the legislation.
Neither I nor Deputy Danny Healy-Rea are on the committee, but Deputy O'Keeffe is a member. We went to the committee to discuss our amendments and they could not be discussed because the Minister did not have them because they were not ready. The legislation was not ready. It was the Minister's fault. It was light a slow-moving train or like the Luas he has designed for Dublin that cannot get across O'Connell Bridge. We would take a few Luas lines and buses in Tipperary if he would give them to us but he will not give us anything, not even the scraps. The Minister can smile all he likes but that is unbecoming of him.
He has four more long days after tonight and then, on 6 May, his ministerial pension will be secured. Is that what he is waiting for? He is stuck to this Government like God knows what. I do not see many in here supporting him. He had the Ministers of State, Deputies Halligan and Finian McGrath, for a while but he has been a lone ranger in this debate. I have been here for every hour of it. Not a single Fine Gael Deputy nor any member of the Independent Alliance has been in the Chamber. There are screenshots and everything else on Facebook whereby people can see that the Minister was left in here on his own. What is wrong? I know that before Christmas he was giving out yards to the Whip's office and everything else for not having this legislation ready. I am a member of the Business Committee and we discuss every week what business is to be transacted. We do our best to do it well but it was as if there was nothing else in the world but this legislation.
This is at a time when we have discovered that 19 died as a result of scandalous neglect on the part of the HSE. The Minister is happy to support the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and Mr. O'Brien, the CEO of the HSE. Where is the political accountability? The Minister wrote for decades for the Sunday Independent and other publications and he had answers for everything. He called for openness, transparency and honesty and for quangos to be out, out, out, just as Margaret Thatcher said about the Downing Street agreement. The Minister is obsessed with this legislation. It is not fair, balanced, reasoned or capable of being implemented.
With the height of respect, it is reasonable.
The Deputy is probably travelling another journey and she is coming back off it now again.
The Deputy should stick to the amendments.
I will not take any lecture from the Deputy.
The Deputy is filibustering. That is what he is doing.
I will not take any lecture from the Deputy.
Let me make it very clear that the reason we are not on Report Stage is that the Bill has been recommitted in respect of these amendments. The recommittal was proposed by Deputy Troy. Prior to this there was another recommittal and there will also further ones. That is the bad news. I ask Deputy Mattie McGrath to refrain from comments like that. They are unbecoming of him.
I was interrupted. I did not interrupt anyone. I sat here-----
The Deputy is inviting interruptions.
I am not inviting them. I did not interrupt anyone tonight. I have sat here all night. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle was in the Chair and other Members chaired this debate.
I hope the Minister will reflect on the terrorist remark, and that other people will do so as well, otherwise we will have to be forced to take another route to make him to apologise. That route would be a costly one. Tá an tAire ag gáire anois. I am not going to allow my name to be besmirched or to allow anyone describe me as a terrorist. I have been elected by the people of Tipperary for the time being thankfully. As long as they continue to elect me, I will represent the constituency, as Dan Breen and many other good people did before me. Dan Breen was not a terrorist either, he was a freedom fighter.
The Minister will have an opportunity later to clarify whether he made the comments.
I am sure they are on the record and attributed to him.
I asked the Minister previously to look at many issues in the context of road safety. He could have considered a plethora of issues. One of these relates to the statistics for driving test. I want him to comment on the statistic confirming the number of people waiting to be scheduled for driving tests, which is deeply alarming and a further indication of the disarray that is afflicting the learner driver system. The RSA confirmed to me, by means of a reply to a parliamentary question in March, that a total of 44,746 applicants nationally were waiting to be scheduled for tests and now the Minister is going to try to bring in legislation to criminalise them. These people cannot get tests. What is being done represents putting the cart before the horse. I will not say the word to describe that but it starts with "a" and ends "ways". It is ridiculous. These figures go to the heart of what I and others have been saying for sometime now, namely, that there is a chronic backlog afflicting this sector. That backlog is, in turn, creating serious knock-on effects.
The Minister will pass this legislation because obviously he has some kind of hold over Fine Gael, at least for another four days. It is probably a quid pro quo. I know that. I am not just speculating. What is deeply alarming is that the figure of almost 45,000 does not include those who have already been scheduled for tests. I do not know what number is in the system. There could be 15,000 or 20,000 in the system and there are 45,000 waiting to be scheduled. The 45,000 who are waiting merely reflect those waiting to be given testing dates. Many of them have testing dates and they are not included in that figure. The RSA, which is chaired by a former Teachta and member of the defunct Progressive Democrats, informs me that, in part, this is due to the number of driver testers who have retired in the past 12 months. Wait for this part. It does not specify how many testers have opted out of the system or the reason for that. Why is there such a shortage? Why have so many of them retired? Is the system so dysfunctional that they cannot remain in it? The RSA has also told me that it has taken on 23 new testers since 2016 - not 2017 - but that only six of those will have commenced operating by this year. What is going on? Where are the other 17? Why would it take from 2016 to May 2017 - yesterday was May Day 2018 - for them to be appointed to their jobs? I wish them well. I have no axe to grind with any of the testers but what is going on? If that is not incompetence, what is? Are they being paid? I am sure they are if they have been recruited? It could not take them two years to learn everything? Do they have to take a theory test, get L plates and get someone to accompany them while driving? What is going on?
Will the Minister answer those questions? He will not because he is not interested. He cannot answer them. He is obviously presiding over an unmitigated mess. He is also the man who said that he was totally opposed to quangos and that he would never appoint any people. Then he appointed two good people, as has been said, for good reason, but did they go through the proper process of public appointments to boards? That is all I would ask about them. I wish them well on the board, but they want a bigger and more expanded board and more fun and games. That is playing with people's lives, which is what the Minister has accused us of doing with his terrorism comment, as did the head of the RSA in accusing us of causing lives to be lost. I resent that greatly because I am pro-life. I am all for helping people out like cabhrú leis na daoine, a Teachta Dála, a messenger of the people, and it my raison d'être for being here. The Minister made that suggestion, as did the head of the RSA because we were opposed to the Bill. I will ask the head of the RSA to withdraw that comment. The language they used was intimidatory. It was as if they were trying to frighten or scare us from representing our people. That is what is going on. If we represent people in rural Ireland, we are accused of being aliens, Neanderthals or God knows what because we cannot fall into line with the Dublin brigade. Once I am all right Jack, it is a case of to hell with the people outside the Pale. The 23 new testers have been taken on. Where are they? Why are only six of them working? What is going on. This is incompetence in the extreme. I raised this matter previously with the Minister and he did not answer me but his officials might be able to help him out.
In my county of Tipperary, which I am proud to represent, from Carrick on Suir up to Moneygall, Clonmel, Cahir, Cashel, Thurles, etc., 1,700 people are waiting to be scheduled driving tests. This demonstrates the enormity of the problem at local level. What the Minister wants is that people who are waiting for tests and those who fail tests for the slightest reason who are caught driving - he wants the Garda to impose this if he gets his way - to have their cars taken from them. He also wants those people to be fined and brought before the courts and the owners of the relevant vehicles - whether it be the parent, guardian, sibling or whomever - to also be fined. Furthermore, he wants the cars to be seized and the people involved jailed. The Government cannot imprison those who should be in jail, namely, the people who are presiding the scandalous murder of 18 women. Let us get real here. There is no talk of jail for them. They are above anything of that sort and that is all right.
That is not becoming of the Deputy. He cannot draw those comparisons.
They have been killed. They died because of neglect on the part of the HSE.
The Deputy will have other opportunities to comment on that. I ask him to continue and to adhere to the debate on the amendments.
I am continuing. I am just putting in context what the Minister is trying to do.
If the Deputy wants to hear the Minister's responses, he should be thinking about that.
I am thinking about that but I have not heard any response from him at the committee or anywhere else. I have tried to discuss this with him privately and at different fora but he has not been prepared to do so. He is hell bent on passing this legislation. It is his swan song, especially coming up to the two-year anniversary of his appointment to ministerial office, which is very important to him and some of his Independent Alliance colleagues.
Why can these people simply cannot get a test within a reasonable period? The Minister cannot legislate to put them off the road, lock up their parents, impound the car and send them to jail if they cannot get the test. It is not their fault they cannot get the test.
Passing it is another issue. Many of these drivers have done the theory test. We have people returning from America or other countries who emigrated and were wanted back, and they are forced to go through a theory test and a driving test and forced through everything. It is insulting to those people, who drove here for maybe 20 years and drove in America in all kinds of situations, that they are forced to go do a theory test. It is madness. As I said, I want answers to those questions. The Minister is making legislation that is unimplementable and his colleagues who will vote for it are doing the same. Those 1,700 people cannot even get a test.
I salute a school in Tipperary town, the Abbey School, which as part of the TY programme has a simulator and a driving tester comes in and gives lessons. It is a wonderful scheme that it has run for years. That should be in every school, if they have the space to do it or acquire a track. There is a man in my town, in Cahir, as well who is looking for permission to build a karting track and he has offered it as a simulator track to train people in how to drive and help to educate these young people.
Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí and they always will. We have great young people. We must admire them. The Minister is making criminals of them when, in their effort to finish their education, they must have a car. To go to an apprenticeship, they must have a car. To go back and forward from their place of work or school, they need a car. They do not have the school buses.
The Minister has some antiquated school buses out there in the fleet and he has not done anything to sort it out. I attended a school in Deputy O'Keeffe's town, a wonderful class of TY as well, in the brothers' school in Mitchelstown, where they had done a project on wearing seat belts in school buses. Approximately a month later, I saw - thank God, no one was hurt - that a bus turned over and they had to come out through the bus driver's door, and the heroic driver and heroic students helped them out. There were no seat belts. It would be more important to bring in legislation for that, not a carrot and stick to fine them but to try to encourage them. They do not wear seat belts in the school bus. I asked my own daughter and she said it was not cool. That is more important. A bus can travel at 50 mph carrying 60 pupils on the roads, some of which are not fit for a donkey and cart. These roads, which the Government will not address either, are in an awful state.
We must encourage young people to go forward in life and learn to drive. I was outside and I heard someone, I think it was Deputy Fitzmaurice, talking about how most farmers' sons and daughters thankfully can learn to drive the tractor and rudaí mar sin such as machinery, on the land and they are expert drivers when they come out on the road and can pass the test with no problem. Others, in towns and places, do not have that facility. The majority of the Government's school buses have no seat belts and the fleet is outdated.
There are taxi drivers who the Minister is forcing to replace their cars after ten years. These are the finest of cars, that have passed the NCT and have passed a further test that they have to do to be a taxi involving measurements and space and safety issues, and they are banished. It is another stupid act. I go to other countries and some such cars are 30 years old. Their clock has gone around six times and they are flying around. Then there are many old buses in the fleet that are 20 or 30 years old.
There is a plethora of areas the Minister could look at if he cared to but he has zoned in on this with a passion to tell those people in rural Ireland that he will sort them out, and "I am all right, Jack." As I said, those 1,700 people cannot get a date for a test, let alone get a test. What if they are stopped by the gardaí? I know the gardaí and I support them 100%. No country can be governed without the support of the public, and the gardaí themselves know this. The Minister will have legislation that will make criminals of young people. God knows, with the mental health issues and the stigmas around so many other issues, in the legislation we are passing here the Minister should not be trying to make criminals of them. That is what the Minister is doing, clear and simple. By not allowing them to do the test, not providing for a situation where they can get a test, not appointing the testers, and not cleaning up the system and making it fit for purpose, the Minister is making criminals of our young people, both in rural and urban Ireland, who want to get their test.
I have just been taking a mental note of the number of times that Deputy Mattie McGrath mentioned the same point about driving testers and I plead with him to avoid repetition.
I do my best.
The Deputy's best does not seem to be good enough.
I am not repeating, I am asking questions. I am making points about young people being criminalised.
Then ask the questions.
Young people are being criminalised by not being in a position to get their test. Their parents put their hands in their pocket. For 12 lessons, they pay up to €50 a lesson. There are excellent driving schools. We did not have that at all when we were young and we passed our tests and got our licences. They cannot get the test after all the cost involved. Then they can fail for the slimmest of issues, if a car is defective in any way during the test. I had a case which I will not repeat because the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will say I mentioned it earlier, but if the same thing happened with a seat adjuster or whatever, the driver fails. There must be a sliding scale. If the person is competent to drive the car, obey the rules of the road and do everything that he or she is expected to do in the test, for example, the three-point turn, and God knows whatever else he or she is expected to do as I have not had to do a test for years, he or she should get the licence with a restriction. If something is defective in the car, it probably was not defective but fell off as a result of the potholes on the way to test centre. That is what has happened, in rural areas or in some streets in urban areas as well. Frustration is something that drivers from rural areas will be used to. They have to be used to it. As I said, they cannot get the tests.
The Road Safety Authority, in its wisdom, and the previous Minister - the Minister, Deputy Ross, who was sitting up here in the back seat a few years ago objecting to most matters - had the NDLS learner driver permits debacle, another sad, sorry spectacle. We have an office in Clonmel about which we fought for nearly two years. The Road Safety Authority procured it. It was a building that was empty on the side of a bypass and no one could find it because the then NRA, now TII, would not allow them put up a finger-post sign for people to find it. There are others in that business estate-----
On a point of order, is it the amendments that we are speaking to at this point, Deputy Troy's amendment and the other associated amendments that have been recommitted, or is it the entire Bill?
Amendments Nos. 4 to 21, inclusive, and 28 are so general the scope has been widened. I have pleaded with Deputy Mattie McGrath and Deputies who have continually repeated themselves. I believe it is the will of the House that Members would want to hear a response from the Minister tonight. If that is the will of the House, I ask Deputy Mattie McGrath to consider at least giving the Minister 15 minutes to respond tonight.
What is wrong with tomorrow or next week, with all due respect? I respect the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's plea.
I am sure, after all of this, it will take the Minister much longer than 15 minutes if he is to deal with them.
I hope it will.
That is only my view. There is wide scope. It is the Minister who, because of the amendments, has been responsible for the recommittal. Deputy Troy had to recommit. Amendment No. 4 happened to be his but there are many more amendments in the names of other Deputies, including the Minister.
Including my good self.
I said, "other Deputies".
No problem, and I respect that.
I know what the will of the House is. I can detect it. Deputy Mattie McGrath should try to reflect it.
I thought under the Constitution we were entitled, once we obeyed the rules, to speak here with freedom or are we to be treated like terrorists?
We have dealt with that.
Yes, but the Leas-Cheann Comhairle is trying to curtail me.
Hold on. If we heard that once, we heard it 20 times.
And rightly so because it is a scurrilous allegation.
The Minister, I am sure, is intelligent enough. I cannot dictate to the Minister what to do.
I accept that.
If the Minister wishes to clarify it or if he wishes to compound it or whatever, that is a matter for him but let us stop the repetition.
There are Deputies trying to stop me speaking.
I think there are very few who believe that Deputy Mattie McGrath is not repeating.
I had this the last night too. That is very unfair. I have this well researched and I am speaking to script most of the time. I never mentioned the NDLS previously but I am mentioning it tonight because they could not find the building in Clonmel. As I said, the RSA set it up and procured a building, the NRA would not allow them to put a sign up, and one had young and old going around to try to get their driving licence, going into other businesses up the road in the estate and interrupting them to know where was this centre. It could not be found.
The one in Arklow was a portakabin that there was no space in. It was a shambles.
What is the relevance of that?
The NDLS is under the Minister's Department and I ask that he look at those appalling vistas, if the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will let me continue. That is the relevance of it. He could deal with that instead of this Bill.
Does the Deputy have a-----
Repeated complaints about the appalling level of customer service being delivered to the motorists were commonplace. We eventually got signs put up on the road, not on the main road but on the by-road heading into the state. I saw one yesterday morning thrown in a ditch with a stone keeping it standing. That is the way the signs are being operated. I am sorry I did not take a picture of it. That is how the Department is operating the NDLS centre. That is the respect it has for the customers in Ireland. To hell with them. It is outrageous. There have been repeated complaints. In 2014, I tabled a parliamentary question to the then Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, who is now Taoiseach, which revealed to me that the NDLS comprises three separate companies, all of which appear to be incapable of working efficiently with each other. I asked a direct parliamentary question to the Minister at the time about this farce of an operation which revealed, to my genuine shock, that there are three companies involved in the delivery of the service. There are three companies involved in the NDLS driver testing centres. Where are the Government rules on this? I do not know how the then Minister, Deputy Varadkar, managed to keep a straight face when he indicated to me it was to ensure a more efficient and cost-efficient service.
I am being distracted. I did not distract other Deputies.
It is easy to distract the Deputy.
We are all distracted.
I will not have these comments. I am entitled to the protection of the Chair.
I am entitled to the protection of the Chair. All I want is silence. I am being distracted.
It is very funny. Laugh at the people of rural Ireland.
I am distracted like Deputy Mattie McGrath is distracted.
Deputy Jonathan O'Brien is always distracted.
They are always distracted. I do not know how the then Minister kept a straight face-----
Deputy Mattie McGrath without any-----
I do not know how the-----
On a point of order.
I do not know what the point of order is.
On a point of order, there are a whole lot of Deputies here tonight who represent rural Ireland on these benches and the other ones. We all represent rural Ireland. Nobody has a monopoly on that. That is a point of order.
It is not a point of order.
They have a choice to save the people of rural Ireland or to destroy them. It is up to themselves.
Do not be inviting interruptions.
I will not tell anyone how to vote.
The Deputy is inviting interruptions.
Getting back to the cost-effective service, the reality has been the complete opposite with regard to the NDLS and driving licences. The reality has been the complete opposite. We have the ridiculous scenario where SGS Ireland has the contract for the front office interface, Abtram for the back office processing and another company, Credit Card Systems, CCS, for the plastic card licence. I had a young man, a council engineer's son, who went to America on a J1 visa. Like any working person, he had his licence in the pocket in his shirt and the licence got destroyed. His father got on to the NDLS to see if he could get a licence which he needed in America and he was told his son could not and that he would have to come home and go to the centre. His father said he could not afford to come home because he has a job and is there on a J1 visa. He was told to come home by boat. We talk about the Famine ships. He was told to come home by boat. This is the kind of incompetence and messing that is going on. He would have to come home physically in this modern era with all our technology. He had a passport and everything else; it was just his licence that got washed. He had to stay driving and trying to get to work in America with no licence because it got accidentally destroyed. He was told to come home by boat if he could not afford the flight. That happened. It is on the record and the man is there to prove it.
I should not interfere but some time by way of letter I will tell the Deputy what he should have done.
Good man. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle is good on the Passport Office. I know that and fair dues to him.
Practice makes perfect. I bow to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's experience. He is a long time in the business. It happened. It is a bad day when one does not learn something. If the Leas-Cheann Comhairle has something to tell me afterwards I would appreciate it. I am always in the L-driving category as far as learning is concerned. I have no monopoly on any issues. The reality has been the complete opposite. We have a crazy situation. What on earth is going on when a service that was delivered almost perfectly for many years by the local authorities - we all had a great relationship with them - was taken away and reduced to an absolute mess by three different companies all of which apparently proved their worth in a competitive procurement process. It beggars belief. It is bizarre. My colleagues and many other Deputies raise the issue of An Post every day. It is a crisis at the moment with the post offices. We are interested in having them provide that service to free up the staff in the county council and elsewhere to deal with housing issues. They said they have been short-staffed since the austerity cutbacks. The then Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, said in his reply to me that An Post had submitted a tender for the front office service but was not successful. The other three companies got it. I would love to see the transparency and the tender process. An Post looked for it but did not get it. Teachta Troy is a postmaster and so is Teachta Healy-Rae. We wanted business to keep the post offices open yet we gave it to private companies. They are three companies I had never heard of. They have made a right hames of it. The Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, might know what a hames is; Minister Ross would not know. A hames is something that goes on a horse. From the information I had at the time, it seems An Post made a very robust and efficient delivery of the service proposed but they did not want to know. They decided to close down the post offices saying rural Ireland had too many of them and it did not need them. The NDLS and the companies of which it is comprised have done a spectacularly inept job which leads to one question. How independent are the competitive procurement processes the then Minister, Deputy Varadkar, talked about? One has to scratch one's head and ask what is going on. What is going on in rural Ireland? Why are all these whizz-kid companies and plastic cards there and to hell with the ordinary people?
I did not mention this before and neither did anybody else. I am old enough to remember a time when a Fianna Fáil Minister of State in the Department of the Environment, Ger Connolly, issued thousands of licences with no tests because there was such a backlog of waiting lists for tests. Many of those people have gone to their resting place and their good reward and I hope they are happy but many of them are on the road all of the time. Is that fair? Where is the equity? Under the Constitution we are supposed to treat all citizens equally. Many of them got licences. They just bought them from the county council because the testing system was not able to cope. Thousands of them were issued. Will they be withdrawn? Will they be checked up, brought back and made go for tests? I certainly hope not but I am saying thousands of them are out there. That is what is so farcical about this legislation. It is victimising and terrorising the people of rural Ireland without calling it that. That is what it is doing. It is making them into criminals, which they are not. Most of them are law-abiding people and 99.9% of them are being badly treated by vagabonds, robbers, thieves and marauding thugs. I do not say it for the sake of a history lesson. It is an indication of some of the blatant examples of how drivers in this country have been treated in recent years. It is unbelievable. I did not go near the issue of the contempt for citizens. The attitude is that people should do what we say or we will lock them up and criminalise them. They are the facts. The Minister is around longer than I am to know those licences were handed out.
The proposal in this Bill will soon fall into the same category of unworkable and unenforceable law. The Minister has been warned about it time and again but he will not listen.
The House would like to know which amendment the Deputy is referring to.
I am referring to amendments No. 4 to 19, and No. 28.
Which one would be of interest?
I have a list here. We have a number of amendments tabled ourselves. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle did not ask any other speaker which amendment he or she was speaking on.
The Deputy has amendment-----
If the Leas-Cheann Comhairle likes I will pick them out but it will take more time.
The Deputy has amendment No. 14.
We have amendment No. 14. It is in the name of Deputy Danny Healy-Rae, Deputy Mattie McGrath, Deputy Michael Collins, Deputy Michael Healy-Rae-----
I know that. I can read that.
The Leas-Cheann Comhairle asked me. He is goading me now.
No, I am guiding the Deputy.
The amendments are there. Will I read out the amendment? It is not necessary. They are there to be debated. Whenever we reconvene on this Bill, I hope we will debate the amendments with the permission of the Ceann Comhairle or the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. As I said, the proposal in the Bill would soon fall into the same category of unworkable and unenforceable. It is very sad.
As for the amendments regarding alcohol levels and the breath test, it only came to my mind today that the Minister said he had plans to introduce harsher sanctions for excessive speeding. A road safety group, PARC, and the motoring body AA Ireland have both stated that while the plans were welcome in principle, they would be very hard to enforce. Garda sources have also expressed doubt over the Minister's statement that he was considering more speeding sanctions that would involve more penalty points for motorists caught driving over the speed limit. It is a noble gesture but why does he not have it in the Bill?
I support the Garda traffic corps, in which there are some great gardaí who also attend to crime if there is a 999 call in an area, thereby going above and beyond the call of duty. They did this in the two recent storms by helping people in all situations. They are asking why this is not in the Bill. The numbers in the traffic corps were reduced by half and, although both the Garda Representative Association and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors are looking for them to be increased again, nothing is happening. There were no increases at all last year and they do not even have the vehicles they need to chase the powerful, high-speed cars which go by like a gust of wind or a jet stream which you cannot even see. They are more dangerous, as they could kill 20 people if they had an accident at that speed so the Minister should give the traffic corps the tools they need to apprehend those people.
Speed cameras are another debacle and the bane of many people's lives. I have had debates with the companies concerned but they are no help at all. I have asked them to go to accident black spots, such as bad bends, but they will not. They go to places where it is like shooting fish in a barrel, catching people doing 80 km/h in an area where the limit is 60 km/h. A woman was caught going into and coming out of a school yesterday, in a 50 km/h zone where she was doing 54 km/h. It is horrible. I do not condone speeding but they wait in places such as the bottom of hills to trap people.
An enormous cost is borne by the State for the GoSafe speed cameras. I do not know GoSafe and I have nothing against that organisation but the State has paid almost €88 million to private speed camera firms and has collected just €32.7 million in fines on motorists. The Minister is looking up at the sky or shaking his head but these figures are from his Department, or part of it. Is the Minister awake?
That is unnecessary Deputy.
I was prompted to think he may have been asleep. I did not believe he was sleeping. Can the Minister say why we did that? There was a scandal with toll bridges-----
I respect the Deputy's right to speak but we are not dealing with speeding or speeding cameras.
We should be.
We are not. I thought we were to speak to amendments but these matters are not in any single amendment.
Deputy McGrath did not read his amendments out but he read the names of those who signed them. The amendments deal with penalty points. I have been in this House a long time and recommittal is something unusual. It is only the second time since I became Leas-Cheann Comhairle that we have had one, having had one on a Finance Bill at one stage. The Business Committee will have to look at this. Members will recall that Report Stage was open-ended until the Business Committee decided that the first contribution should be seven minutes. Unfortunately, we are not on Report Stage and perhaps it is time for the Business Committee to look at time constraints. We are on Committee Stage at the moment and I have no control over that, except to say that a Member cannot wander beyond the amendments. There is a wide scope but the Chair is not responsible for the introduction of these measures. We may have a long way to go and we have to learn from this.
On a point of order, can we take it for granted that, given the fact that we have spent six or seven hours and not had a conclusive debate on key amendments, the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will take it to the Business Committee in order that we can have some guidance from it for the next session? Otherwise it will be extremely frustrating. All our constituents, whatever their points of view, should be represented.
All parties and groups are represented on the Business Committee and I am quite sure some Member will take the initiative.
Deputy Clare Daly represents the group with whom I sit.