Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Ceisteanna (303)

Catherine Connolly

Ceist:

303. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Transport his plans to allow persons applying for essential worker jobs which require a full driver licence to apply for and take complete driver tests during level 5 restrictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14622/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Transport)

The driving test service is not currently operating as normal due to the impact of Covid-19. Tests are only available, under Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions, to essential workers. Tests will not be conducted for applicants applying for essential worker roles while we remain in level 5.

RSA driver testers are undertaking driving tests in extraordinarily difficult conditions in the current Covid19 environment. The driving test is conducted in an enclosed space for a period of over 15 minutes, where physical distancing is not possible.

Given the significant risk to testers when conducting a driving test, Government has deemed that the driver testing service should be available ONLY for those involved in the provision of essential services under Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions.  The Road Safety Authority offers driving tests to those who can produce evidence that they are an essential worker, in accordance with Government definitions.  A person who is applying for a post is not an essential worker.  However, persons who have received an offer of an essential position and are awaiting a driving test might be deemed to be involved in essential work.  I understand that the RSA has not to date offered tests to people in this situation, but is considering doing so.

I fully appreciate the difficulties that this poses for learners applying for essential roles and I can assure the Deputy that driving tests for all candidates will resume as soon as it is safe to do so. I must emphasise, however, that this decision has been taken in line with official public health recommendations that everyone in Ireland work to limit the spread of the virus by staying at home in so far as is possible and minimising social contacts.

My Department is liaising with the RSA on an ongoing basis to help the service meet the growing demand for tests within the current public health situation.  An additional 40 driver testers have been authorised along with 36 approved for retention or rehire in 2020. Recruitment has commenced and a panel will be formed. However, hiring of testers requires advertising, selecting candidates and training. Newly hired testers require 7 weeks of training in order to be ready. Training is given by experienced testers, so while new hires are in training the capacity of the service is reduced.

The RSA are also looking at a number of other measures, including whether the number of tests a driver tester can perform each day can be increased. Any decision on this matter will be guided by health protocols.

Until Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions have been eased, no progress can be made on addressing the backlog; however, the Road Safety Authority has plans in place for when the service is allowed to resume for all learner permit holders to be tested at the earliest possible date, and a gradual return of driving test times to their pre-Covid levels.