28. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the steps he will take to address the widespread problem of minors and others driving scramblers and quad bikes and the serious public safety threat that these pose; the steps he will take to address the lack of enforcement of road traffic legislation; the status of his Department's engagement with An Garda Síochána on this issue; and if he will draw up a strategy to address this issue. [33429/17]
Deputy Charles Flanagan: I share Deputy Shortall's concern about the public safety and anti-social issues associated with the misuse of such vehicles. It is a serious issue. The Deputy will be aware that the use of mechanically propelled vehicles, MPVs, including quad bikes and scramblers, in a public place is subject to the relevant requirements of road traffic legislation. I am advised by the Garda authorities that these vehicles, when used in public places, must comply with the Road Traffic Acts, including in terms of motor tax, insurance and possession of a valid driver licence or learner permit. Under the Acts, any member of An Garda Síochána is allowed to stop an MPV in a public place and demand production of a driver licence. In addition, gardaí may inspect the vehicle for compliance with vehicle standards legislation, which makes it an offence to drive without reasonable consideration, in a careless manner or dangerously. The Garda authorities also have powers of seizure, detention, storage and disposal of vehicles under the road traffic code.
I am further informed that the use of quad bikes and scramblers in public parks and open spaces is strictly prohibited by local authorities under the 2011 parks and open spaces by-laws.
Despite the road traffic and other relevant legislation available in this area, the Garda authorities have indicated that the use of quad bikes and scramblers by minors and youths in public parks has proven difficult to deal with from an enforcement perspective. Garda members are instructed not to pursue youths on quad bikes, scramblers and so on owing to the inherent safety risk in pursuing these vehicles. If such pursuits were to take place, there would be a high risk of their ending in collisions at speed, resulting in serious injury or death. As a result, bringing these vehicles to a stop is challenging.
The Garda authorities further advise that the issue is one that is best addressed through a multi-agency approach. In that regard, gardaí are working with local authorities, including park authorities, to examine other solutions, such as engineering ones. Enhanced fencing and bike gates are examples of engineering measures taken to restrict access to parks.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to respond to Deputy Shortall on this issue. I understand its importance, particularly in urban areas, including this city. It means that new schools have to be built on the east coast while schools are emptying on the west coast. There is no capital investment logic for that. It means that important services on the west coast have to be closed, and then opened up on the east coast. One of members of the senior management team of An Post informed the committee of which I am Chairman that 500 post offices in this State are unsustainable. In large part, that is a reflection of what is happening with the shift to the east coast. Unemployment is currently three times higher in the Border regions than is the case in Dublin. In certain parts of the west, broadband speeds are 36 times slower than in the centre of Dublin.
The north-west region is without a rail line or a motorway. Gaining access to the north west is very difficult for those in business. Businesses are very simple entities. A business will set up in a space where it can attract customers, communicate with those customers and transport its product or service to them. If it cannot do that, it will locate elsewhere. We know that the demographic changes in the south west to which I referred mean that Balbriggan - on the east coast - has the youngest population in the country and that Killarney has the oldest. Demographic profiles are changing as young couples move. The change has been shocking. I covered the enterprise brief on behalf of my party in the previous Dáil. In the five-year lifetime of that Dáil under the previous Fine Gael Government, IDA Ireland pumped 60% of all foreign direct investment, FDI, into Dublin and Cork. In 2010 and 2011, the figure was as low as 20% of FDI going outside the Dublin and Cork regions.
This is not anti-Dublin bias. I want to see Dublin become an international city of renown and to be able to compete internationally. The fact is, however, that the more Dublin expands without planning, the more difficult it becomes for people living and working in Dublin. We all know that it is very difficult for individuals to get to their places of work during rush hour. We have heard much about the baptism ban but, in fact, there is a building barrier in this country because the Government is not building the necessary schools. People find it very difficult to get their children into schools. Water shortages are happening in Dublin at the moment. We are increasingly told that the headroom in respect of water is very small in Dublin, which means that this Government is seeking to take water from the Parteen basin along the Shannon in the mid-west region and bring it to Dublin. The logic, again, should be that the Government should look at developing Limerick and similar cities in a regional capacity so that they would be able to allow for infrastructure to be used more evenly.
One of the most disappointing items of information to emerge at meetings of my committee in the past year was that relating to the Western Development Commission. In his new role in this Department, I hope the Minister will focus his attention on this matter because the Western Development Commission is a very useful organisation, so much so that my own party examined the possibility of replicating its structure in other regions. Mr. Paddy McGuinness was the chairman of the Western Development Commission. He is a friend of the former Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny. He was given the job of being the chairman of that commission. He came before the committee and - this is on the record of the committee - that the Western Development Commission has had its budget and its level of staffing slashed. Considerable funding which was assigned to the Western Development Commission was put in a capital budget space, even though the need was for a current rather than a capital spend. It was mind-blowing. The Western Development Commission was given money that it could not spend, which is incredible, and it still cannot spend it. As a result, many organisations that work with the Western Development Commission are being held up with regard to investment due to this particular spend.
Mr. McGuinness has said that the position of CEO in the Western Development Commission has been vacant for five years. It is incredible that this is the case. There has been no board in the Western Development Commission since February of this year, which means that it is rudderless. The latter means that community organisations cannot get the necessary funding and are being left in limbo. Mr. McGuinness went further than that. He said that the Western Development Commission was hamstrung, oppressed and hampered by the Department and that the only time the Department ever took an interest in the commission was on the issue of its governance. That must make the Minister's blood boil. It makes my blood boil to realise that we have a functional, decent organisation operating in one of the most disadvantaged parts of our country and that it is materially discriminated against and worked against by the Department. The latter is creating a blockage in the context of the development which would naturally and organically happen in that part of the country.
The other issue about which I am concerned in respect of the Department is the fact that the word "Regional" has been deleted from its title. The Minister may say that he is going to keep an eye on regional development and that is going to be a task of his Department - and a greater task for the other Departments as well - but we know that the titles of Departments reflect their priorities. If a particular objective is not set out in the title of a Department, the opportunity of giving that objective priority is missed. Those involved in the arts logically become annoyed when the word "Arts" is left out of a Department's name. Those in Gaeltacht areas logically become annoyed when its name is left out. The word "Regional" has been deleted from the name of the Minister's Department. I think that is a mistake. Rural areas are more regional in their location, but there are rural areas in County Meath, which is also in the greater Dublin area. The two issues are not mutually exclusive.
In addition to my concerns regarding the changes in their titles, I also have a difficulty with the lack of work that happens in these Departments. Rural and regional areas are experiencing a crisis in the context of broadband. Mr. Dermot Ahern, a former Fianna Fáil Deputy, was the first to promise the provision of broadband services throughout the whole State. He promised that in 2004. Mr. Noel Dempsey, another former Deputy and a county colleague of mine, promised that every house in the State would have broadband by 2010. Deputy Eamon Ryan from the Green Party promised that we would have broadband for all by 2012 and, in 2014, the Fine Gael Government stated that the entire country would have broadband by 2020. In 2016, that target was stretched out further to 2022. Now the Minister, Deputy Denis Naughten, has admitted that the plan may not actually be completed by that date and has started to suggest a target date of 2024. We can have all the name changes and departmental changes that we like, but if we do not have the implementation of key policy such as that relating to broadband, we are going to find it very difficult. This is horizon politics. Each of those particular politicians to whom I refer stated that the sunny day when rural Ireland would have broadband was on the horizon. However, the problem is that as we get closer to those dates, the horizon shifts out farther and that sunny date becomes more and more difficult to reach.
Agriculture is obviously a major concern for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and, I hope, for the new Department for which the Minister, Deputy Ring, will have responsibility. The problem is - Teagasc reflected this as well - the really shocking figure that only 37% of farmers in this State are economically viable. It is mind-blowing that 63% of farmers currently operating in this State are not independently economically viable.
I ask the Minister to focus on the Leader programme. Our committee held public meetings in Bailieborough and Athboy. People came to us from Cavan, Monaghan, Westmeath and Meath and told us that only one or two people in those counties had been approved for Leader funding in the past year. There were 18 separate steps from start to finish for a particular business to achieve. If one was to purposefully design the most bureaucratic nightmare for a small business - and a small business in a rural area would not have experience with bureaucracy and would be averse to it - and to stop individuals in it from doing anything, one would design a way of having 18 steps before it could get the necessary funding to allow those people to do their particular jobs.