I thank the House for the opportunity to introduce this Bill and for agreeing to take all Stages of the Bill today. This is an urgent Bill and I am seeking the support of the House to ensure its passage through the Oireachtas so that it can be enacted before 31 October this year. The sole purpose of the Bill is to provide a statutory basis for continuation of the powers of the railway accident investigation unit, RAIU, relating to the reporting and investigation of accidents, including the Luas light rail system, heritage railways and certain other categories of railway set out in the Bill. The RAIU is the independent statutory expert body that carries out all railway accident investigations in the State. If the Bill is not enacted before 31 October and in the event that there is an accident on or after that date involving the Luas or one of the other railway networks covered by the Bill, the RAIU will no longer have the power to investigate or report on that accident.
The reason this change is happening to the RAIU's current range of powers is due to changes to the EU railway safety framework that are coming into force on 31 October. The EU railway safety directive 2004/49/EC established a common regulatory framework for railway safety across member states through the harmonisation of safety rules, certification, the role of national safety authorities and the investigation of accidents. Under that directive, all member states were required to establish an independent national investigation body, and to that end, the RAIU was established here. The 2004 directive applied to all categories of rail and the provisions relating to the investigation of accidents were transposed in Ireland by the European Union (Railway Safety) (Reporting and Investigation of Serious Accidents, Accidents and Incidents) Regulations 2014.
These regulations are referred to in the Bill as the "Regulations of 2014."
Under these regulations, the RAIU was given powers and functions in respect of all railways, including heavy rail, as in the larnród Éireann network, light rail, which includes the Luas, as well as other rail systems such as heritage railways metros and private railways. The 2004 EU railway safety directive is now being repealed, however, and it is being replaced by what is known as the recast railway safety directive, Directive EU (2016) 789. This directive takes effect from 31 October 2020. As a consequence of the repeal of the 2014 directive, the regulations of 2014, which were made under the European Communities Act 1972, will also cease to have effect on 31 October 2020.
The recast railway safety directive is part of a package of measures, known as the EU fourth railway package, which has the aims of promoting a single European rail market and achieving the technical interoperability of the Union railway system to support rail passenger and freight transport services. As a result of this, the recast railway safety directive has a reduced scope and it expressly excludes light railways, metros and other local railway systems. In the context of the railway systems in Ireland, it is only the railway operations on the larnród Éireann network, including the DART, that come within the scope of this new directive.
Last week, I made the European Union (Railway Safety) (Reporting and Investigation of Serious Accidents, Accidents and Incidents) Regulations 2020. These are referred to in the Bill as the "Regulations of 2020." These regulations transpose Chapter V of the recast railway safety directive, and provide the RAIU with renewed powers and functions in respect of reporting and investigating accidents on the heavy rail system. The regulations will take effect from 31 October 2020 to meet the EU transposition deadline and will replace the regulations of 2014 but, of course, they will only apply to heavy rail.
If no other measures are taken by 31 October 2020, there will, of course, be a gap in the legislation that would leave the RAIU without a statutory basis to investigate accidents involving any of Ireland's other railways, including the Luas and heritage railways. The measures in this Bill are aimed at preventing any such gap arising. The enactment this Bill will allow the regulations of 2020 to be applied to all of those categories of railway, as well as to heavy rail.
Through the enactment of this Bill, the RAIU will be able to use the regulations of 2020 to carry out its full investigation functions, the same as it has always done in respect of the Luas light rail network and heritage railways and so on.
The Bill also contains necessary saver and continuity provisions that will mean that the current work of the RAIU can continue without interruption. This includes investigations that are under way at present or reports that are in preparation, as well as existing reports and safety recommendations.
The net effect will be that from 31 October 2020, through a combination of the regulations of 2020 and the enactment of this Bill, the status quo will be maintained in relation to the RAIU's powers for investigating and reporting on all railway accidents, including heavy rail, the Luas, metros and other railways such as heritage, tourist and privately owned railways.
While this Bill now needs to be brought through the Oireachtas as urgent legislation, efforts have been made to try to resolve the problem earlier. In 2018, Iegislative provisions to address this issue were included in the general scheme for a railway safety (amendment) Bill 2018. That Bill went as far as the pre-legislative scrutiny stage and was examined by the relevant Oireachtas joint committee in June 2018.
Since that time, however, despite various efforts, it has not been possible to make any further progress because of the demands of other priority legislation, including those related to Brexit. At the end of last year, the Department explored the option of attaching these provisions to some other priority legislation within the Department's remit that was close to being published and, at the same time, developed the provision into a single-issue Bill. Those options were effectively closed off, however, with the decision to call a general election and, since then, the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has removed any opportunity for progressing the matter until now.
I will now give a short overview of the Bill's provisions.
Section 1 is a standard interpretation section. It provides definitions for the specific terms used in the Bill, and where these are existing terms under other Acts, the relevant cross references are given. Section 2 is also a standard provision and provides for the commencement of the proposed Act on 31 October 2020.
Section 3 on reporting and investigation of accidents is the main provision in the Bill. This section provides that the regulations of 2020 will apply to the other types of railway that are not included within the scope of the recast railway safety directive. These include metros, trams and other light railway systems, including the Luas. They also include privately owned rail networks used for freight, to the extent that those railways interface with public roads or with another railway system. As Senators may be aware, there is one such railway currently operating in Ireland and that is the Bord na Móna network, which the company uses for its peat operations. Heritage railways are also included, and there are a number of these throughout the country, including in counties Clare, Donegal, Kerry, Laois, Leitrim and Waterford. The running of vintage steam trains on the larnród Éireann network is also covered.
Sections 4 to 6, inclusive, are also standard provisions. These seek to ensure the continuity of the reporting and investigation work that the RAIU has done to date and is continuing to do at present. Section 4 ensures that any investigation and the preparation of any report already commenced by the RAIU under the regulations of 2014 can continue and be completed under the regulations of 2020 from 31 October 2020. Section 5 ensures the continuity of existing investigation reports or other reports of the RAIU. Section 6 ensures the continuity of any relevant safety recommendation issued by the RAIU prior to 31 October 2020. Section 7 is a standard citation provision.
In conclusion, this is an important and urgent Bill to provide that the RAIU is provided with full statutory powers to enable it to continue, without interruption, to carry out reporting and investigation into accidents and incidents involving all railways. Again, I would like to thank the House for recognising the urgency attaching to the Bill and for agreeing to take all Stages in one day. I hope Senators will support the measures contained in the Bill and I look forward to hearing their views. I commend the Bill to the House.
Finally, I wish to inform Senators that the Government is putting forward a motion for earlier signature for this Bill. As explained, these measures need to be in place by 31 October if the RAIU is to be able to continue its important work without interruption, and an earlier signature is, therefore, considered appropriate and necessary.