Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 22 Mar 2005

Vol. 179 No. 17

Road Traffic Offences.

I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for choosing this matter on the Adjournment. I empathise fully with Senator Leyden as my very first job was as a teacher in the same school. I am only disappointed that in mentioning Oliver Goldsmith and various bishops, I was not mentioned.

Mea culpa.

I travel extensively in the Border counties in the European constituency of Ireland North West, through Donegal, Leitrim, Cavan and Monaghan. I am constantly amazed at the manner in which drivers of Northern-registered cars deliberately flout the speed limits in the Republic.

Apart from showing a disregard and contempt for speed limits, one regularly encounters convoys of Northern-registered cars overtaking on double white lines. Members of the Garda Síochána in some Border counties have pointed out to me that some drivers from Northern Ireland seem to treat the Republic's roads as playgrounds. If these drivers are caught on a speed camera, the Garda cannot enforce the law once they abscond across the Border to the North. There is the additional difficulty that the penalty points which accompany speeding fines in the Republic cannot be imposed on Northern drivers. Apart from road safety considerations, there is frustration in the Garda that its campaigns to reduce road traffic fatalities have been hamstrung by its inability to enforce financial penalties and penalty points on Northern-registered drivers.

While the problem manifests itself most acutely in Border counties at weekends, it is also evident in other areas, particularly during holiday times. I do not contend that Southern drivers necessarily behave in an exemplary and law-abiding manner when driving in Northern Ireland. I am sure some do not abide by the Northern speed limits and that the PSNI must endure the same frustration as the Garda in attempting to enforce penalties for breaches of road traffic regulations and legislation.

In this context, a reciprocal arrangement should be put in place between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI so that each is empowered to collect fines for road traffic breaches in the other's jurisdiction. I understand this would be a reasonably simple procedure which can be put in place without undue administrative hassle. The welcome and unprecedented level of co-operation between the two police forces in recent times is encouraging in this regard. The ultimate aim is to ensure fewer accidents, injuries and deaths on our roads.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue and empathise with him in reflecting on the carnage on our roads, particularly in County Donegal last weekend. We all agree road safety is a matter of great public concern. Departments and agencies which are responsible for dealing with road safety issues are extremely aware of the urgent necessity of bringing about a steady reduction in the numbers killed and seriously injured on our roads. Government policy in this area is set out in the road safety strategy for the period from 2004 to 2006.

Speeding offences and other breaches of road traffic legislation are detected in a number of ways by police forces. Broadly speaking, they are detected either by an intercept or non-intercept. An intercept takes place when a police officer stops the transgressing motorist. In respect of speeding, this is done in the majority of cases when the infringement has been detected by technological means. A non-intercept detection always occurs by technological means.

To refer to a driver as a "Northern" driver or a "Southern" driver can mean a number of things. It can refer either to where the driver's car is registered or the jurisdiction in which his or her driving licence was issued. Upon interception by a garda or police officer, a driver is asked to produce his or her licence. If the garda or police officer decides to pursue the matter, he or she issues the driver with a fixed charge notice. Under our road traffic legislation, the driver has the option of paying the fixed charge within 56 days, with payment after 28 days incurring an increase of 50% in the fixed charge payable. However, the driver may decide not to pay and so allow his or her case to proceed to a court hearing, as he or she has a constitutional entitlement to do. By the time a case has reached this stage, a Northern driver detected in this jurisdiction or vice versa will in the vast majority of cases have returned to his or her own jurisdiction.

A case proceeds to court by means of a summons issued by the Garda. The difficulty arises when the driver resides outside the State. Drivers with foreign addresses who choose not to pay the fixed charge are identified during the process of summons application. The matter of issuing summonses to such drivers was referred to the DPP by the Garda fixed penalty office. The DPP advised that the prosecution of such offenders should not proceed as service of summons was unlikely.

The position with non-intercept detections, where the driver is not stopped, also causes difficulties. With regard to EU member states, I understand from the Department of Transport that the European Commission is preparing proposals for access to the vehicle files of other member states.

In summary, drivers who are detected speeding are served a fixed charge notice, which gives them the option of up to 56 days to pay. By this stage the driver is almost certainly back in his or her own jurisdiction. If the driver has not paid after 56 days, a courts summons is issued. Legal advice is that summonses should not be issued to drivers with foreign addresses.

The Senator is correct in pointing to the difficulties which arise when drivers from outside the jurisdiction are detected speeding. However, Article 34 of the Constitution provides that "justice shall be administered in courts established by law by judges appointed in the manner provided by this Constitution". Any decision of a court in Northern Ireland in cases such as these would, therefore, not be enforceable in this jurisdiction and I understand the situation is similar in Northern Ireland. It would be a significant development to provide for the enforceability in this jurisdiction of decisions of non-domestic courts without any involvement by the domestic courts.

With regard to paying fixed charges, the position in reality is that drivers only pay these because they are backed by the threat of a court summons if they are not paid. A person resident in this jurisdiction who ignores the decision of a court or the issue of a fixed charge notice in another jurisdiction could be laying himself or herself open to serious consequences.

A more promising way of approaching this problem may be by means of mutual recognition of penalty points. Penalty points are applied to the driving licence records of drivers in respect of a number of offences, including speeding. A separate system, which differs from that in Northern Ireland, operates in Britain and there is no mutual recognition between the two systems. Accordingly, where a driver who holds a Northern Ireland licence commits a penalty point offence in Britain, the points cannot be recorded on that licence.

Where a driver with a foreign licence is detected committing a penalty point offence in this jurisdiction, it is not possible to record penalty points as no entry exists in our national driver file for that driver. The question of providing for a system of mutual recognition of penalty points is being pursued by the British-Irish Council in view of the differences between the systems in this jurisdiction, Northern Ireland and Britain. The Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland is the lead agency for transport issues under the British-Irish Council and it has recently prepared a paper on this subject. I understand the Department of Transport, which is the Department responsible for this matter, has referred the matter to the Attorney General for his advice, given the complex legal issues involved.

I will advise the Minister for Transport of the serious concerns expressed by the Senator and will ask that this issue be pursued more vigorously.

Recreational Facilities.

I thank the Minister for Agriculture and Food for being here to represent the Minister for Education and Science. Davis College in Mallow, County Cork, is a newly-built second level school with approximately 400 pupils. When the new campus was built almost four years ago, the principal, staff and students looked forward to a bright future in their new premises. The old Davis College has been in Mallow for many decades and is a well respected school.

The disappointing aspect of the new development for staff and pupils is the lack of playing facilities. County Cork VEC, which operates the school, purchased sufficient land to provide such facilities with the result that a landbank now adjoins the school building. Mallow is one of the towns accorded hub status by the Government and it is important that a second level school of the scale of Davis College should have proper recreational facilities. County Cork VEC has received many representations from staff, students and parents on this matter. County Cork VEC has now written formally to the Minister for Education and Science requesting that funding be made available to provide the playing facilities. I believe approximately €350,000 would be required. Given that the Department has already sanctioned the purchase of land, built a new school and put in place fine facilities, it is disappointing that playing facilities have not been provided. Given that the land is available, I ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food to liaise with the Minister for Education and Science to ensure that adequate recreational facilities, including a football and hurling pitch, are put in place for the approximately 400 pupils in the school. Early progress is required.

Last week, in the wake of the difficulties on St. Patrick's Day, we had a debate on what happens when young people do not have enough sports and recreational facilities. We should begin to address this in our secondary schools by ensuring that children have such facilities. The facilities that exist at Davis College, Mallow, are insufficient. A playing pitch is required and I ask the Minister to make progress in this regard as soon as possible.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue. As he has indicated Davis College is a coeducational vocational school under the aegis of County Cork VEC. It has a current enrolment of 565 pupils, including 361 mainstream pupils and 204 PLC pupils. The school is located in a recently completed new building which cost in excess of €4.5 million.

An application under the 2004 summer works scheme, made by County Cork VEC, sought funding towards improved playing pitch facilities at Davis College. All applications under the scheme were considered and, in the context of available funding for the scheme and the number of applications received for that funding, it was not possible to approve all applications including the application from Davis College.

An application from the VEC under this year's summer works scheme sought funding for the upgrade of the electrical system at the college. This was in line with the advice to applicants to apply for one project only so that funding could be spread over as many schools as possible. I am pleased to inform the Senator this application was successful and the VEC has recently been informed that grant aid of €187,000 has been allocated for this work. As the funding available under the 2005 summer works scheme, amounting to over €62 million, has been allocated, it is not possible to consider any further applications in the current year. It is, of course, open to the school's management authority to apply for funding for the project under the 2006 summer works scheme, details of which will be published later in the year.

I assure the Senator that the Government has never underestimated the scale of the task and the level of capital funding and other resources required to rectify decades of underinvestment in school infrastructure. The budget day announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable the Department of Education and Science to adopt a multi-annual framework for the schools building programme. The Department is confident this will allow it to make significant and visible inroads into our educational infrastructure deficits.

I appreciate that the Senator has raised a very important issue. I suppose he inadvertently thanked the Minister for the money Davis College did receive. I am sure he will have the opportunity next year to pursue further the necessary funding, perhaps under the 2006 summer works scheme. The school's authorities will be able to apply under this scheme at the end of this year.

I appreciate that the Minister does not have line responsibility for education but she might know whether the summer works scheme is the only option available in the search for funding. Following a meeting of CountyCork VEC last week, a letter was issued to the Department. The summer works scheme is not normally regarded as the appropriate vehicle for obtaining the funding required. It would have been far preferable had the whole package been delivered when the school was first built. Perhaps the Minister will ask the Minister for Education and Science to liaise with me on this issue.

I am not sure about all the idiosyncrasies in this area but perhaps something could be done through the national lottery if the facilities are to be made available at a community level.

We are considering that option.

The Minister for Education and Science is currently under pressure in respect of school playing fields and PE halls because she is trying to address the basic infrastructural needs of all the colleges and schools. Perhaps the Senator could talk to his colleague from the south of Ireland, who might be able to facilitate him.

The Seanad adjourned at 9.25 p.m. until10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 23 March 2005.