I thank the members for the opportunity to appear before the committee to discuss the Transport Council meeting in Brussels tomorrow. The focus is on a policy debate on the social aspects of road transport and road safety. Apart from these discussions, there will be a number of information items under "any other business", including the European Union's aviation strategy.
I would like to begin by mentioning a number of EU road transport developments. First, as part of a new package of EU road transport legislation that is expected in 2016, the Commission has been undertaking a wide-ranging review of road transport legislation. The Commission has identified a number of difficulties that member states have encountered in the application and enforcement of existing legislation, and plans to introduce a new road package in 2016 to clarify and simplify existing rules. This will allow for more uniform application and enforcement of rules and create a framework for a sustainable, cost-effective and interoperable electronic system of road charging across the Community.
An evaluation of the existing legislation has been carried out by the Commission. The new road package will now go through a number of stages, including public consultation, meetings with member states, consultations on specific topics, and impact assessments, before the Commission presents its proposals in 2016. My Department will continue to engage on all aspects of the development of the new road package through participation in Commission road transport working groups and ongoing liaison with Commission services.
The Commission’s road transport committee has voted in favour of a new draft regulation to supplement Regulation 1071 of 2009 with regard to the classification of serious infringements that may lead to the loss of good repute of a road transport operator and, consequently, the withdrawal of his operator licence. Infringements are to be uniformly classified as serious, very serious and most serious. The harmonised categorisation of infringements is important in ensuring more consistent enforcement across member states.
The purpose of the new regulation is to define the degree of seriousness of infringements by reference to the risk of fatalities or serious injuries and to provide the frequency of occurrence beyond which repeated infringements are more likely to be escalated to a more serious level. Such repeated infringements may lead to the loss of good repute of a road transport operator and, consequently, the withdrawal of his operator licence. The next step will be to present the draft regulation to the Council and Parliament for decision.
Another point to note is that a regulation has recently been passed by the European Parliament providing for technologically updated “smart” tachograph machines for recording drivers’ hours. Tachographs record the driving time and speed of vehicles and are used to determine compliance with driving time rules. Since 2006, all new HGVs and buses have been fitted with digital tachographs, which use driver cards to record driving and rest-time data. The new regulation aims to improve the security, effectiveness, and efficiency of tachograph machines. The regulation comes into effect from March 2016, and manufacturers will subsequently have three years in which to introduce the new-generation tachograph machines in all new vehicles. The new machines will allow for automatic recording using satellite technology, eventual remote access by enforcement authorities, and potential interface with other transport technology systems.
I would like to update the committee on the difficulties facing Irish hauliers in recent months at Calais and Dover ports. A number of Irish hauliers have been fined by the UK authorities for carrying clandestine migrants into the United Kingdom from France. Fines are levied on both the haulage operator and the driver of the truck when migrants are discovered. The fines are reduced significantly, or waived, if the operator and driver can show that all necessary precautions were taken to avoid illegal entry of migrants onto their trucks. My Department’s officials have informed the Irish haulage sector of the security measures required by the UK authorities. We have agreed a process of information exchange with the UK authorities to monitor the situation on Irish hauliers. A number of fines have been cancelled or reduced where operators or drivers, or both, have showed the UK authorities that the required procedures were followed. The situation at Calais and Dover has abated considerably in recent weeks. However, the recent attacks in Paris have resulted in increased security measures generally across the EU and this may have a bearing on the situation. My Department is continuing to keep a watching brief and to maintain communication with the UK authorities. My officials are in regular contact with representatives of the road haulage industry. I have met them myself to discuss this and other matters over recent months and I intend to meet them soon to discuss the latest position.
For the discussion on road safety, I will be focusing my intervention on the specific questions on which Ministers and other attendees have been asked to focus. I plan to outline briefly the new initiatives Ireland is planning to take in 2016 to reduce the number of fatalities and serious road injuries, especially regarding vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists. I will be focusing on relevant planned Road Safety Authority activities in 2016. These will include an education programme, Mobility Matters, rolled out nationally via active retirement groups to increase road safety awareness for older people; a new junior cycle programme to be provided to schools targeting children from 13 to 16 years, with the aim of reducing fatalities and injuries in this vulnerable road-user group; and the development of a new intervention to highlight the danger of low-level speeding, or driving a few kilometres per hour above the speed limit, and the consequences of this for vulnerable road users.
Mass media campaigns in Ireland will continue to prioritise the issue of driver distraction, as well as focusing on the issues of drink-driving, non-seat-belt-wearing and worn tyres. Second, a new education campaign is being planned next year to support the introduction of preliminary roadside testing for drugs. An EU target to reduce serious road injuries would help in providing each member state with a benchmark from which performance could be measured. Such a target would further facilitate and give impetus to the difficult task of producing a comprehensive set of serious road injury data through the linking of multiple sources of information, such as what occurs in hospitals, in respect of law enforcement and with regard to insurance. I will also state that it would be beneficial, were each country to have access to a central technical group at European Union level with expertise in this area. To develop this point further, this follows on from recent discussions in the Council on road safety. Much of what must be done in this area effectively can be handled at national level through national organisations such as the Road Safety Authority. However, I also believe the European Union can play an important role in allowing us to understand what is going on in other countries, allowing us to share what we are doing and to learn from what other countries are doing. If each incremental or small improvement made results in the saving of a single life or the avoidance of a single injury, it is an improvement worth making. One must be open and must be aware of what can be learned from what other member states are doing. The Road Safety Authority has pointed out that such a central resource with expertise in the area of international classification of disease, ICD, and health problems coding, data transformations, linking of datasets and data protection would further enhance the process and the ease with which serious injury data can be captured. Finally, Ireland is happy to examine any measures at EU level that might be of assistance in addressing cross-border enforcement of penalty point or demerit point systems.
Under the "any other business" portion of the meeting tomorrow, information will be given on a number of items including the EU aviation strategy. Ireland supports the revitalisation of efforts by the European Commission to advance the aviation agenda, in particular to enhance aviation safety and to address the competitiveness of the EU aviation sector. The Government will examine the Commission's communication and legislative proposals when they are published. It is too early at this point to comment in detail on the strategy but I will offer a small number of general observations. Ireland is highly supportive of efforts to update the basic regulation of the European Aviation Safety Agency, EASA, on safety of the aviation sector, particularly to include provisions for the safe operation of drones. Extension of the EASA’s remit to cover some aspects of aviation security also may be appropriate, in so far as there are essential interfaces between safety and security, but it will be necessary to carefully consider the detail of these proposals. As for the social dialogue in aviation and the establishment of an EU observatory on jobs and employment, I note work is already under way in this sphere. The regulations on social issues must be such that they can be clearly understood by operators and do not pose a threat to competitiveness. It will be important to ensure that discussion takes place in the appropriate fora, in the recognition that labour law applies to all sectors and not just to aviation. Ireland actively supports EU efforts to negotiate full open skies agreements with third countries. However, there must be an emphasis on the full implementation of existing agreements and the completion of negotiations on agreements for which the Commission already has mandates. All these points will be offered in the spirit that the liberalisation of and competitiveness within European aviation, the vast majority of which has been facilitated by the role of the European Union in this regard, has been to the benefit of commuters, of access and of the growth of Ireland and the economy across Europe.
Other items on the agenda under "any other business" include results of investigations of the crash of the flight MH17, with information from the Netherlands delegation, and election of the council for 2016-19 of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO, with information from the Bulgarian, Cypriot, Czech, Greek, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian, Slovenian and Slovak delegations. Other items include the state of play on ratification of the Luxembourg protocol on matters specific to railway rolling stock to the Convention on International Interests in Mobile Equipment, on which there will be information from the Presidency, rail transport security with information from the Commission on the state of play - this was requested by the French delegation - and the work programme of the incoming Presidency from the Netherlands delegation.
I thank the Chairman and members for the invitation to appear before them and I welcome any question members may have.