Dáil Éireann - Volume 683 - 26 May, 2009

Other Questions. - Road Traffic Offences.

[422] Deputy Shane McEntee asked the Minister for Transport the progress made to date in relation to resolving the issue of the application of penalty points to drivers from the UK and Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21200/09]

  Deputy Noel Dempsey:The issue of cross-Border enforcement for road traffic offences has proved to be a difficult one over the years. Given the variety and complexity of the legal systems in different states, the development of a common approach, whether bilaterally between two states or at an EU level, has always proved extremely difficult. The key issue is how to enforce penalties outside the jurisdiction, that is, when non-resident drivers have returned home.

The mutual recognition of penalty points between ourselves and the United Kingdom is being pursued under the auspices of the British-Irish Council, BIC, and for which Northern Ireland has the lead role.

As separate penalty point systems operate not only in the two jurisdictions on this island, but also between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, this is a much more complex legal and administrative issue than the mutual recognition of driver disqualifications, work on which is nearing completion. Mutual recognition of penalty points will require the passage of primary legislation in both jurisdictions in due course. A feasibility study on areas of possible co-operation in this area was commissioned by the UK Department for Transport, with our agreement and that of our Northern Ireland colleagues. The consultants’ final report was published on the UK Department for Transport’s website last summer and the next step is to develop a joint programme to achieve mutual recognition of penalty points between the three jurisdictions.

Our commitment to this was reaffirmed at the recent meeting of the North-South Transport Council in April, but all recognise that it is a complex and long-term issue. It is also my view that experience on the operation of mutual recognition of driver disqualifications, which is currently being finalised, will be invaluable in addressing the penalty point project.

  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:As someone who travels on the M1 at least once or twice every week, I can also be assured, as I am sure the Minister can also, that the car or vehicle behind speeding aggressively and dangerously will have a Northern Ireland registration. People’s lives are put at risk every day because of drivers from the North coming down here and driving in the most dangerous fashion. They have no fear because no penalty will be imposed on them. I am aware that the same is true of drivers from the South in Northern Ireland — I want to be very clear on that point.

In the absence of this primary legislation and the complications that exist, I believe that, if possible, the Minister should meet with his justice counterparts, North and South, to sort this out and see whether the gardaí need extra powers to stop and seize these cars. These drivers thumb their noses and just continue to get away with it. They flash everyone out of the way while travelling at speeds of up to 160 kph every day. Will the Minister agree that in the interim this needs to be dealt with effectively by taking such vehicles into custody, if necessary?

  Deputy Noel Dempsey:The Deputy has balanced the issue well, because apparently it is a problem for Northern Ireland as well regarding Republic of Ireland cars in the North. However, the number of Northern registered cars here being driven by Republic of Ireland drivers appears to be increasing by the day. I accept what the Deputy is saying in relation to this matter. I met with Mr. Jim Fitzpatrick, MP, my UK counterpart, about 12 months ago and we discussed this issue. We agreed between ourselves, the Republic, Northern Ireland and Great Britain, that the UK will take the lead on this aspect of road safety. We met with the officials [423] and emphasised that progress must be made in this regard. However, it was made pretty clear to us that this project could take three to four years, since they had gone into it in some detail in their feasibility study. In that context, I believe that giving extra powers here in relation to drivers on both sides of the Border, and thereby mutually allowing the authorities to stop and seize cars until substantial fines are paid, is something that we should, perhaps, discuss in the context of the road traffic Bill.

  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:I would welcome that very much. That is what we need.

4 o’clock

  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:When will we actually see the famous road traffic Bill, because we have been talking about it in terms of penalty points and many other problems to do with the administration of driving for the past two or three years and addressing the Minister about this for the past year or so? Were any of the 140,000 foreign drivers mentioned by the Minister followed up? Is there a way that any of them can be followed up? As regards the other 55,000, what exactly is their position and why are they able to dodge points? We all know people who have had a significant number of points imposed and finally changed their driving behaviour, so that there is no question that the mechanism is effective if we could get it right.

Obviously, this is a major gap in Irish law and Mr. Conor Faughnan of the AA has asked why some type of non-national driver file cannot be created to have some record of these drivers so that they can be pursued. In 2006, I recall that our sister party, the SDLP, was in Dublin and Ms Margaret Ritchie, MLA, Minister for Social Development, made a presentation to an Oireachtas committee attended by my colleague, Deputy Róisín Shortall, on this matter. Here we are three years later; we are still talking and meanwhile the collision casualties are rising. We should act urgently.

  Deputy Noel Dempsey:My understanding is that all 146,000 are recorded, but not on the vehicle driver file——

  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:They are in a limbo file, which is going nowhere.

  Deputy Noel Dempsey:They are actually recorded, in the event that they come to the attention of the Garda again. This comes back to Deputy O’Dowd’s point to the effect that if they are persistent offenders, we should have a means of ensuring that this behaviour does not continue. This is well worthwhile pursuing.

I cannot give the Deputy details about the other 50,000 because it is a matter for the Courts Service and the Garda to follow up once the courts have made their decisions, as appropriate. I am not too sure but if I can find out for the Deputy, I will do so.

  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:It may have to do with invalid licences.

  Deputy Noel Dempsey:Some of it may relate to no licences, or perhaps invalid ones.