DÁIL QUESTIONS WITH MINISTER FOR TRANSPORT ON MUTUAL RECOGNITION OF DISQUALIFIED DRIVERS

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport further to his correspondence with the Promoting Awareness, Responsibility and Care on our roads group in October 2015, in which he said that a new agreement to provide for the mutual recognition of driver disqualification was signed on 30 October 2015 by Ireland and the United Kingdom, that legislation to underpin this agreement was at an advanced stage of drafting with the Office of Parliamentary Counsel and that a Bill was expected to be published in November 2015 and enacted by the end of 2015, if the drafting of this legislation has been completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [44883/15]

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: After the UK pulled out of the EU Convention on Driving Disqualifications this time last year, the Minister undertook to use the planned road traffic legislation, which he brought to the Cabinet on Tuesday, to bring about a regularisation of this country’s arrangements with the UK. It has taken the Government a full year to legislate for this issue, which is of great importance to the Border region, in particular. I understand most of that time was spent renegotiating our mutual recognition agreement with the UK. A number of further months have passed since that was concluded. I accept that the other key part of this legislation, which relates to drug-driving, is very important. The Government has stuck mutual recognition in with that. Organisations like the PARC road safety group are asking why the mutual recognition aspect of the proposed Bill has not been advanced more quickly on its own. They believe that should have been done because this is such an important issue. Has the Road Safety Authority been informed of Northern disqualifications? If so, how many such disqualifications has it been informed of in the current year? Have we informed the Northern Ireland authorities in reverse?

Deputy Paschal Donohoe: As the Deputy knows, saving lives by improving road behaviour is at the heart of the road safety measures that have been taken here and in the UK. In the past, it was possible for a driver who committed a serious road traffic offence in one jurisdiction and was detected and prosecuted, resulting in a driving disqualification, to return home and continue to drive without any recourse being available to apply that disqualification in his or her home country. Arrangements for the mutual recognition of driving disqualifications between Ireland and the UK, based on the EU Convention on Driving Disqualifications and primary legislation in both jurisdictions, were in place from January 2010 to November 2014, with an average of 140 disqualifications being transferred between the two jurisdictions each year.  Those arrangements changed for the reasons outlined by the Deputy. When they were in place, a driving disqualification received in the other jurisdiction was recognised in the driver’s home country or country of normal residence.  A new agreement between Ireland and the UK on the mutual recognition of driving disqualifications was signed on 30 October 2015. I am taking the first opportunity available to me – the road traffic Bill that was agreed by the Cabinet yesterday – to make provision for that in legislation. The drafting of the Bill has been completed and the Government approved it yesterday.  My aim is to publish the Bill soon. I hope to have it published before the end of the year. While it will not be passed by the Oireachtas early in the new year, I assure Deputy Broughan that I aim to have it introduced in the Oireachtas in January so that its passage through these Houses may begin. I believe a number of measures in the Bill will make a prompt contribution to better road safety for 2016.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: While I welcome the commitment to introduce this Bill, it is a pity the part of it that is the subject of my question could not have been passed more quickly. I accept that the other issue is very important as well. Ten years ago, I proposed in this House that we should adopt the drug-driving regime that was being used in the state of Victoria in Australia. It has taken a decade for legislation to be introduced to address this issue. Surely the Minister could have fast-tracked the mutual recognition aspect of this legislation to get it passed before this House is dissolved in the new year. A number of us will not be in this House after the general election. The Minister and I might not be Members of the 32nd Dáil. The legislation to which I refer is of great importance in Border areas. How will this process actually work? When the Road Safety Authority gets the information from Northern Ireland, will it go to the District Court to seek to have someone who has been the subject of a disqualification in Northern Ireland disqualified here? I think that was the older mechanism that was used. Will it be used again under this process? I have raised some of these matters on Topical Issues on two occasions. The Minister was not able to attend those debates because he was on European business. The Minister of State, Deputy English, deputised for him. I asked two critical questions about disqualifications, but I did not receive any satisfactory answers. I would like to put those questions again briefly. First, we often hear from solicitors etc., that there is no actual requirement in law for the Courts Service to record the licence of a disqualified driver. Is that the case? If so, do we need legislation? Second, the Minister has told me we do not need legislation on the question of breathalyser results in English and Irish. Prosecutions are not proceeding as a result of the chaotic situation that exists in this regard. Can the Minister tell us what will be done about that, particularly in light of Judge Marie Keane’s recent judgment? She threw out 21 cases over summonses that were wrongly worded, in her view.

Deputy Paschal Donohoe: Before I answer the Deputy’s questions, I would like to anticipate the possibility that I will not get an opportunity to speak about all of these road safety matters after Christmas.

I acknowledge that the Deputy and the other Deputies present today have made a significant contribution to addressing the issue of road safety in this Dáil. It is a matter that is treated differently from other matters we debate. As of earlier this week, 34 fewer people were killed on our roads compared to this time last year. That is a very significant change to which all the Deputies have contributed.

The Deputy asked me a number of significant questions. He asked why could I not do this sooner. The reason is that the agreement between both jurisdictions was signed on 30 October and the first opportunity I have had to bring it in is in the road traffic Bill, which I have just brought to Cabinet. On the issue of where we are in terms of the serving of statements regarding the electronic breathalyser test devices in Irish, when I dealt with the matter in the past, it was subject to a court hearing. I was advised that we would win that matter but, as the Deputy knows, we did not. We were ruled against. The next day I signed the statutory instrument to deal with that matter. A number of cases are before the courts and I will not comment on them because it is up to the judges to evaluate and make decisions on them. The Office of the Chief State Solicitor is considering what action could be taken on them and I await its response. I will not comment on any cases the courts are currently evaluating. I always do my best to take Topical Issue matters when I am here. I was not here, as the Deputy acknowledged, for the debate on that issue. I will find out what questions the Deputy raised and I will write to him within the next seven days with an answer on them.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I would welcome that particularly on the two issues the Minister mentioned and whether legislation is required regarding the recording of licences by the Courts Service, given that there has been so much controversy about that. The Ceann Comhairle ruled out two questions I tried to ask about Judge Marie Keane’s judgment on 12 November 2015, when she dismissed 21 cases on the basis of failure to present licences because, as she said, the summonses were worded incorrectly. They did not include a reference to the penalties people would incur if they did not bring their licences or have them ready for presentation. I asked whether that has been appealed to the Director of Public Prosecutions. It seems there are many matters in regard to the broader issue under mutual recognition that need to be addressed and in respect of which we need to bring forward legislation.

Deputy Paschal Donohoe: We have to acknowledge that the vast majority of road traffic cases are successfully prosecuted. To take the application of penalty points alone, more than 84% of penalty point cases before the courts—–

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: The Minister is inadvertently misleading the Dáil—–

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The Minister has the floor.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I have asked a series of questions about this matter, about adjournments and about cases that are not completed, cases that are withdrawn and cases that are thrown out. He cannot cite that figure of 84%.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: This is the Minister’s time to respond.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: Did the Minister read Judge Hamill’s speech to the Law Reform Commission in which he made some very pertinent points about what is a fairly chaotic situation?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy, the Minister has the floor.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: The Minister said this in the past when, unfortunately, I could not be present but that is not the case. We need more information from the Courts Service before we can start talking about percentages.

Deputy Paschal Donohoe: I can understand why the Deputy wants to make that point given that he made a number of statements on the matter. The Courts Service then had to clarify the interpretation of statistics.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: That is a disingenuous answer.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Deputy, please.

Deputy Paschal Donohoe: The Deputy has made his points. He put forward an analysis with respect to some of those statistics, which he is perfectly entitled to do. A week later the Courts Service gave a very different interpretation with respect to the figures he offered.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: It left out a lot of information.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Allow the Minister to conclude.

Deputy Paschal Donohoe: The advice the Deputy has just offered me is advice that goes both ways in regard to the analysis of statistics that come out of our court system. I stand by the point I made that any road traffic offence that goes before the courts is one the Judiciary independently has to evaluate and make its mind up on. The vast majority of such cases that go before the courts are successfully prosecuted.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Thank you, Minister. I must move on to the next question.