I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for giving me the opportunity to raise this issue on the Adjournment. I thank the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Deputy Browne, for taking the time to listen to what I have to say. I am aware that his senior colleague is busy filling cross-Border roads today in the Border counties.
I would like to bring to the Minister's attention a request, of which his Department is aware, made in 1987 for the provision of a taxi rank in Navan. Work, reports and letters were forthcoming from the different Ministers in the Department over the years and in 1990 some were concerned that the Garda might have a role to play in the issue. The Assistant Commissioner replied to representations by saying that:
Section 84 of the Road Traffic Act, 1961, confers power on the Commissioner, with the consent and signature of the Minister for the Environment, to make bye-laws in relation to stands for street service vehicles. Draft bye-laws for the town of Navan were forwarded to the Department of the Environment on 15th of January 1990.
In early 1991 further representations were made to the Minister's Department. The following response was given by the then Minister, Pádraig Flynn.
I have recently announced the establishment of an Inter-Departmental Review Committee to consider the legal structure applying to the operation of small public service vehicles generally.
The Committee are affording an opportunity to people to make their views known and will accept written submissions up to 28 June, 1991.
The position of areas such as Navan, in so far as the availability of a taxi service is concerned, will be a matter of priority to the Committee.
It was a matter of priority to the committee in 1991 and people had until the end of June to make submissions. That letter from the Department was dated 25 June 1991. Six months later, on 8 January 1992, a letter from a new Minister for the Environment, Deputy O'Hanlon, stated:
As you are aware an Inter-Departmental Committee was established earlier this year [he should have said earlier the previous one because he was a year behind what was happening] to review the laws relating to the operation of small public service vehicles generally. The Committee submitted interim recommendations in September 1991 and Regulations were made on 24th October last to give effect to those interim recommendations. [Such ranks were for the original towns.]
Among other features these Regulations applied taximeter status to twelve cities and towns where public hire vehicles already operate.
I am aware of the position in Navan and in many other major urban areas where public hire services do not exist at present. I expect that this particular issue will be addressed in the Inter-Departmental Committee's final report which I expect to receive in March next.
This particular report was to be made available in March 1992. We now move on to April of that year. I refer to a letter from 22 April 1992 from the Minister's present boss, Deputy Smith, or the third Minister — I am getting confused with all the Ministers involved in this issue — which states:
You will be aware that a comprehensive review of the laws applying to the operation of small public service vehicles generally is being carried out at the present. [It should have been finished seven months previously] The examination of the respective roles of hackneys and taxis will be a key factor in this review. An interdepartmental committee has been established to carry out the review and it is expected that their final report will be submitted to me in the near future.
A year later further representations were made to the Minister. He replied:
The position is that I am at present finalising my consideration of the report of interdepartmental committee established to review the law applying to the operation of taxis and hackneys and reaction to that report from many interested parties and individuals. A central theme of the report is the acknowledgement that many of the decisions in relation to taxis and hackneys should be taken at local level as opposed to central level. The question of the introduction of taxi service to individual urban areas is one of the areas where local authorities could be more directly involved. I hope to be in a position in the near future to take decisions on a range of issues.
That letter was dated 28 June 1993. The words "in the near future" were used a lot in 1992 and again in 1993. In October 1993 a senior civil servant in the Department replies to a further query. That letter states: "At present the Minister is considering the report of the interdepartmental committee to which you made a submission requesting taximeters." Lo and behold, it is still considering the report. In May 1994, in reply to a Deputy looking for the same type of status for other areas, the Minister replied: "The preparation of regulations to implement a number of changes to the system governing the operation of small public service vehicles is at present at an advanced stage." After five years we have reached "an advanced stage", a prolonged pregnancy, without any real result. On 8 September 1994 a letter was sent by the office of the Minister. This letter states:
The introduction of a taxi service in areas such as Navan is one of a range of issues which I have targeted for a decision as soon as possible in the context of the adoption of new structures for the licensing and operation of small public service vehicles. The report of the interdepartmental group which reviewed the existing structures recommended that the function of declaring an area to be a taximeter area should be vested in local authorities.
Is it any wonder that people see us as being ineffective in dealing with problems as they should be dealt with? I hope the Minister will take this opportunity to announce the creation of these taximeter areas so that people who are in this business for the last number of years are given status and credibility and they can pull up in areas that are earmarked for them. They are providing a badly needed service. If Navan had a taxi rank the general public would know where to contact a taxi and we would not be leaving ourselves open to all the abuse that goes in politics today.
We have been asked to do a particular job and it is now seven years from the date the first letter was written in connection with this issue. I am raising this matter because I have an interest in the affairs of the town of Navan. However, there are many other towns that are looking for the same status. How long must we examine the report produced two years ago without making a decision on it? What is the delay? I ask the Minister to announce a positive result for those people who have been hounding his officials for the last seven years. This would reduce an enormous amount of the cost involved in producing these replies from public representatives who are contacted by various parties on a continuous basis in every town which is looking for this status.