Minister McEntee Dáil speech in relation to Private Members Motion on

Protecting Communities from unlawful use of scramblers and quad bikes in public spaces


17 November 2020


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I welcome the opportunity to update the Dáil on the ongoing proactive work being undertaken to combat the unlawful use of scramblers and quad-bikes in public spaces.


I know the issue is of concern to many of us in this Houses, both in Government and Opposition.


More importantly, it is a problem of huge concern to many communities and I acknowledge that Deputies are genuine in bringing those concerns to the floor of the House.


A counter motion setting out the current and future work of the Gardaí and Government in respect of this has been tabled and I will, with the agreement of the house, take the counter motion as read.


The seriousness with which the Government takes this issue is reflected in the Programme for Government commitment to “Enhance powers available to An Garda Síochána to limit the use of scramblers and quads by those engaged in anti-social behaviour and enact legislation to add to those powers if needed.”


As this commitment recognises, potential legislation is just one part of the solution and I and government colleagues will not hesitate to choose that option if it is required.


An Garda Síochána tackle this behaviour from a number of fronts, with targeted enforcement in areas with high activity, working with petrol stations to prohibit the sale of fuel to persons who are using these vehicles and community outreach.


But engagement with communities and awareness raising are just as important in tackling the misuse of scramblers and other vehicles. These include making younger people aware of dangers to themselves and to others in using such vehicles and  highlighting the dangers to parents considering buying such vehicles for their children.


The misuse of scramblers, quad-bikes and similar off-road vehicles is a cause of concern in a number of communities across the country, principally in Dublin but also affecting other urban centres too. Typically issues arise where vehicles are used on public open spaces such as in housing estates, playing pitches or in public parks.


Tragically, there have been cases in the last few years where misuse of these vehicles has led to death or very serious life-changing injuries and I know that all members of the House will join me in extending my deepest sympathies to all those who have been impacted upon by these horrific incidents.


Gardaí in areas such as Finglas have had success in reducing the number of issues with scramblers through targeted enforcement, while youth community engagement groups in Limerick have had successes diverting young people away from using these vehicles in a dangerous manner in public places, and towards properly organised motocross events. An Garda Síochána will continue to develop responses appropriate to the situation in each locality, working with local authorities and community partners.


I know Deputies McAuliffe and Lahart have previously made proposals in this area.


A cross-agency group to examine this issue, principally involving my Department, the Department of Transport and An Garda Síochána has been in place since 2018. The Group has also engaged with other Departments, the Office of the Attorney General and local authorities. The group most recently met on the 28th of September last and the principle issues arising from this meeting were identified across the areas of legislation, enforcement, community engagement and public awareness.


As Deputies will be aware, legislation surrounding road safety and traffic enforcement rests with the Minister for Transport.


In this context, responsibility for bringing forward any new legislative provisions which would seek to deliver the commitments on scramblers and quad-bikes contained in the Programme for Government lies with my colleague the Minister for Transport.


However, my Department will also do what it can and I can inform the House that this matter has been subject to careful scrutiny by the Department of Transport, the Garda Authorities and the Department of Justice.


I look forward to working with Minister Ryan on this issue.


Gardaí already have significant enforcement powers in relation to dangerous misuse of vehicles and non-compliance with regulations on driver licensing, taxation, and insurance, including seizure of vehicles where appropriate


While it is not possible to specifically quantify the number of scramblers seized, as these are not categorised separately from other types of motorcycles in the Garda records, I am informed that 51 quad-bikes were seized by Gardaí in 2019 and that an additional 35 were seized between January and September of this year.


Following further consideration of the matter from the Garda authorities, the Department of Transport is currently leading an additional examination to see if there are avenues for enhancing the overall legislative provisions. Any proposals in this regard would need to align with other relevant legislation, including local authority bye-laws.


However, policing responses will still have to take account of the immediate safety issues involved in pursuing what are often very young drivers of a vehicle in public areas. Interception of persons engaged in the use of these vehicles on public roads and spaces presents dangers not only to the users of the vehicles, but to the public and members of the Gardaí also. These difficulties will remain, irrespective of any legislative enhancements.


Therefore, effective local engagement to raise awareness of the dangers involved and promote positive behaviour change are fundamental to tackling this issue.


I welcome the ongoing work of the Road Safety Authority to raise awareness of the dangers of misuse of these vehicles.


Deputies may have already heard the campaign ads which have been produced by the Road Safety Authority and An Garda Síochána, with Minister of State Naughton participating, highlighting the dangers involved, and asking parents not to buy scramblers or quad-bikes as presents for their children this Christmas.


My Department is also considering how to best develop actions in order to increase awareness of the dangers of these vehicles. The intention is that this work will be carried out in conjunction with affected communities, community groups and other stakeholders affected by the misuse of scramblers. It will also explore how best to engage with young people who are drawn to this behaviour.


In the year to date, my Department has been examining options in this area, with due regard to social distancing requirements and relevant public health advice. This has included a survey of the national network of Garda Youth Diversion Projects (GYDPs) early in 2020, to inform a more targeted approach for awareness raising measures. While the COVID-19 pandemic has to some degree hampered significant further development, this is an area which my Department will continue to explore.


For example, the Department will consider if it is possible to target on-line awareness to the localities most affected, and will support suitable proposals for local initiatives, principally via the network of 105 Garda Youth Diversion Projects. Deputies may be interested to know that the Moyross GYDP in Limerick has already devised a programme of tuition in vehicle maintenance and responsible use.


While the GYDPs have adapted their operation in light of the COVID-19 restrictions, there are still obvious limitations in pursuing increased engagement with particular groups within local communities. The key issue will be engaging effectively with those who use or are most likely to use scramblers or quad-bikes inappropriately and this will require locally generated strategies which respond to local circumstances.


In this regard, I would envision that issues such as the misuse of these vehicles would also be the kind of issue which could be considered by the Local Community Safety Partnerships which it is anticipated will be established under the upcoming Policing and Community Safety Bill, the development of which forms a key part of the recommendations emerging from the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland.


As Deputies may be aware, I last week announced the locations of three pilot Local Community Safety Partnerships which will run for two years in the areas of the Dublin North Inner City Electoral Area, Waterford and Longford and which will inform a national rollout to all local authority areas. The Partnerships recognise the need for a collaborative approach between communities, local authorities and services, including policing and youth services, to effectively target issues affecting communities, such as anti-social behaviour, including through the misuse of scramblers.


Issues of youth crime and anti-social behaviour will also be addressed in the new Youth Justice Strategy, which will be brought to Government before the end of the year and will provide a renewed framework to enhance responses to youth crime and anti-social behaviour. Likewise, the Forum on Anti-Social Behaviour was recently convened by my colleague, Minister of State James Browne, in line with a commitment in the Programme for Government.


Finally, as all Deputies will be aware, the Government has provided extensive resources to An Garda Síochána to support law enforcement and effective policing across all forms of offending. An Garda Síochána has been allocated an unprecedented budget of €1.952 billion for 2021. This level of funding is enabling sustained, ongoing recruitment of Garda members and staff. As a result, there are now some 14,600 Garda members and over 3,000 Garda staff nationwide. Budget 2021 will allow for the recruitment of up to 620 new Gardaí and an extra 500 Garda staff.


The Government and An Garda Síochána are committed to combatting issue of the misuse of scramblers and quad-bikes and to addressing anti-social behaviour more broadly. We are working proactively together to do this and I ask that the House support the Government motion tabled to reflect this.