Thursday, 21 February 2002
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Stagg: ADR, the EU agreement of the carriage of dangerous goods by road, is an important instrument for public safety which we take very seriously, as do the Government and the Minister. Public safety is a key issue. Because of the  increased volume of such traffic, there has been an increase in the danger to the public. It is important, therefore, that standards are laid down by the European Union. Training in these standards is provided for drivers, with certification and examination. Training is provided by the private sector in close co-operation with the Department. Examination and certification are carried out by the Department in conjunction with the Health and Safety Authority. There should be strict enforcement and heavy sanction for any breach of the regulations because of the nature of the products being transported. Approximately 200 drivers per month go through the training scheme, two thirds of whom are first-time certificate holders. They cannot drive without that certification. The problem to which I refer arises because of a switchover from the Department of Public Enterprise to the Health and Safety Authority of the examination and certification mechanism. I agree that this function rightly should be placed within the ambit of the HSA. I have no difficulty with that, but the problem arises because departmental officials, who are currently handling the examinations, say they will not be in a position to have such examinations during March because they will be putting their records in order to hand over to the HSA. While they will allow renewal testing for people whose certificates expire during that period, none of the new applicants will be tested.
To make matters worse, the HSA says it will not be able to start the new scheme for a month after it has taken over from the Department. Therefore, there will be a two month period without any examination or certification and about 300 drivers will be affected. Their livelihoods will be affected because without the certification they cannot obtain insurance. From 1 April, they and their employers will be subject to fines of €190.
In the interim, the Minister should put whatever resources are required into that section to ensure that during the handover period in March and April the examinations can continue. Having considered this matter in some detail, I am convinced the reason the examinations are not going ahead is to suit civil servants while ignoring the needs of the industry they are there to serve. As a practical, pragmatic politician and a good manager of his Department, the Minister should intervene directly and tell the civil servants to keep the examinations in place while they are handing over the records. It should not be difficult to do so. I hope the Minister will not read out a script and that he will respond to my point.
Mr. Jacob: I thank Deputy Stagg for raising this important safety issue. My Department will provide examinations during March for drivers who have undertaken a Health and Safety Authority approved refresher training course for the purpose of renewing their driver training certificate qualification to carry dangerous goods.
A driver of a vehicle carrying dangerous goods  is required to carry a driver training certificate. This shows that the driver has followed a HSA approved training course and passed an examination conducted by the HSA. Three training companies, approved by the HSA, provide the courses to drivers, as required.
My Department currently has responsibility for arranging examinations at venues throughout the country and for the issuing of driver training certificates to drivers who have been successful in these examinations. Under a 2001 commencement order for the Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road Act, 1998, the arranging of these examinations and the issuing of certificates will become the responsibility of the HSA with effect from 1 April this year.
Following discussions with the HSA, my Department has undertaken to have all driver trainer certificates issued and all data and files updated and ready for an orderly handover to the HSA by the end of March. This is to ensure an orderly transfer of certification services for drivers following the handover of responsibilities. To achieve this orderly transfer, it is necessary to limit the number of examinations in March. However, drivers who have completed refresher courses and have submitted an application form to my Department to sit an examination during that period will be facilitated.
For drivers seeking certification for the first time, there is no reason that they should not undertake the approved training course in the normal manner in preparation for the full resumption of examinations. My Department is in ongoing discussions with the HSA with a view to devising suitable post handover arrangements that will assist the HSA in resuming examinations as a matter of priority after 1 April.
Due to the decision to restrict the examinations in March to certification renewals for existing drivers, extra examinations were arranged for February to facilitate demand. I am confident that, with the ongoing co-operation of the HSA, course providers and drivers themselves, the arrangements now being put in place by my Department will ensure continuity of the high level of service for the sector.
My Department and the HSA are anxious to minimise any dislocation caused by this transfer of responsibilities, which is mandated by an Act of the Oireachtas. We will respond to any reasonable requests in relation to the continuing certification of existing drivers, but we are also anxious to ensure a smooth and orderly transfer of responsibilities, which is in the interests of the dangerous goods transport sector.
Mr. Stagg: The limiting of examinations in March by the Minister's Department will have the effect of cutting out two thirds of the people who come for testing. It should be possible for the Department to arrange for them to be tested as well. I ask the Minister to examine the matter further.
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