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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 727-746
 Header Item National Broadband Plan
 Header Item National Broadband Plan
 Header Item Renewable Energy Generation
 Header Item National Broadband Plan
 Header Item National Broadband Plan
 Header Item Renewable Energy Generation
 Header Item Tourist Accommodation
 Header Item Motor Tax
 Header Item Tourism Industry
 Header Item Motor Tax
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Consumer Rights
 Header Item National Driver Licensing Service
 Header Item Driver Test
 Header Item Ministerial Meetings

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 993 No. 5

First Page Previous Page Page of 170 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 727-746

National Broadband Plan

 727. Deputy Sean Sherlock Information on Sean Sherlock Zoom on Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton when fibre broadband will be delivered to an area (details supplied). [7674/20]

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment (Deputy Richard Bruton): Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton The Question refers to a premises which is located in the BLUE area on the NBP High Speed Broadband Map, which is available on my Department's website at www.broadband.gov.ie. BLUE areas are parts of the country where commercial operators are already providing high speed broadband or have indicated future plans to do so. The Department defines high speed broadband as a connection with minimum speeds of 30Mbps download and 6Mbps upload.

There may be a choice of operators offering this service in the area referred to and further information in this regard is available at www.comreg.ie/compare/#/services.​ 

  Questions Nos. 728 and 729 answered with Question No. 700.

National Broadband Plan

 730. Deputy Mattie McGrath Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton the specific details on the deployment of fibre broadband in County Tipperary; the number of properties in the county supplied with broadband to date in 2020; the number of properties in the county which will be supplied with broadband from now until the end of 2020; and the date the deployment plan will be made available by NBI. [7998/20]

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment (Deputy Richard Bruton): Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton The High Speed Broadband Map, which is available at www.broadband.gov.ie, shows the areas targeted by commercial operators to provide high speed broadband services and the areas that will be included in the State intervention area under the National Broadband Plan (NBP). The Map is colour coded and searchable by address and Eircode.

   - Premises in the AMBER area will be provided with high Speed Broadband through the State led Intervention, the contract for which was signed in November last with National Broadband Ireland (NBI).

  - The BLUE area represents those areas where commercial providers are either currently delivering or have plans to deliver high speed broadband services.

  - The LIGHT BLUE area represents eir's commercial rural deployment plans to rollout high speed broadband to 300,000 premises as part of a Commitment Agreement signed with my Department in April 2017.

  The following table outlines the latest data on the number of premises in Tipperary where access to a high speed broadband connection is, or will be, delivered by commercial operators (BLUE/LIGHT BLUE) and those where access will be delivered under the State led intervention (AMBER).

County AMBER

Premises within the NBP State Intervention Area
BLUE

Premises within Commercial Operator’s Area
LIGHT BLUE

Premises within eir's commercial rural deployment
Tipperary 35% (29,647) 62% (52,258) 3% (2,126)


  The National Broadband Plan (NBP) contract was signed with National Broadband Ireland (NBI) in November last to roll out a high speed and future proofed broadband network within the Intervention Area which covers 1.1 million people living and working in the nearly 540,000 premises, including almost 100,000 businesses and farms along with 695 schools.   There are a number of stages required to roll out the new high speed broadband network including:-

  - survey work to inform detailed designs for each deployment area ( over 22k premises are already surveyed);

  - the repair and make ready activities conducted by eir to ensure the poles and ducts that are used in each deployment area are fit for purpose;

  - the installation of the electronic equipment in each exchange building  for each deployment area;

  - the activation  of the backhaul connectivity to each exchange building ;

  - the development of NBI IT systems that allow operator place orders and schedule connections etc;

  - the laying of the physical fibre along the poles and ducts; and

  - if an order is placed the activation of the final connection to the actual premises.

  NBI are working to ensure these activities are implemented, by mobilising their own staff  and ramping up their capacity to deliver the project, including through multiple subcontractor procurements. While many of these activities are underway, the deployment of fibre to pass homes is a quarter four activity and the first homes passed will be able to get connected before the end of this year. By the end of next year, NBI plans to pass in the region of 115,000 premises, with 70,000 - 100,000 passed each year thereafter until rollout is completed. All counties will see premises passed in the first 2 years and over 90% of premises in the State will have access to high speed broadband within the next four years.

  Further details on deployment activities and progress with the roll out are available on the NBI website at www.nbi.ie.

  To support remote working and connected communities, approximately 300 Broadband Connections Points (BCPs) were identified by Local Authorities to be connected to high speed broadband this year. This will assist communities to quickly get free public access to high speed broadband in advance of the main NBP deployment. The planned BCP locations, including schools, library hubs, local sports facilities and other public places are available to view on the High Speed Broadband Map on the Department’s website www.broadband.gov.ie. The BCP delivery project is well underway and surveying of the BCP locations is progressing which will facilitate detailed design and installation. BCP locations are subject to change and a number of the premises initially identified are in the process of being replaced with alternative locations. The remaining BCPs remain on track for delivery by the end of 2020. 

  The BCPs in identified public places will leverage the high speed broadband connection through a range of measures and initiatives, for example providing free public Wi-Fi, some will also have hot-desks, and some will be digital hub business centres where digital training, business information events and other SME supports are organised. 

Renewable Energy Generation

 731. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton his views on whether afforestation, the use of bog land carbon repositories and wind generated electricity can each contribute to carbon reduction with a view to improving the progress in line with international agreements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8119/20]

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment (Deputy Richard Bruton): Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton The Government's Climate Action Plan identifies how Ireland will achieve its 2030 targets by reducing carbon emissions by 35% and puts us on a trajectory which would be consistent with net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Afforestation, the use of bog land carbon repositories, and wind generated electricity can each contribute to carbon reduction.    

  Forestry provides verifiable removal and storage of CO2 from the atmosphere and will help in meeting our EU commitments over the period 2021 to 2030. The Climate Action Plan sets a target of an average of 8,000 hectares per annum of newly planted forest between 2021 to 2030.    

  Bogs also play a vital role, inter alia, in mitigating climate change effects. This is recognised in the 2019 Climate Action Plan, which includes a range of actions including the development of further measures to help rehabilitate exploited and degraded peatlands. The Government announced in Budget 2020 that €5m would be made available for bog restoration and rehabilitation which will restore bogs to their natural habitat and help to capture carbon. With the injection of this funding, the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht intends to restore over 1,800 hectares of protected raised bog. An expanded bog restoration is also under development with Bord na Mona. 

  The Climate Action Plan sets out a target of moving to 70% renewable electricity by 2030 which would reduce emissions to 4-5 MtCO2eq annually. Both offshore and onshore wind are expected to contribute significantly to decarbonisation of the electricity sector. In 2018, wind generated electricity alone avoided 3.1 million tonnes of CO2 according to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. 

National Broadband Plan

 732. Deputy Robert Troy Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton when fibre broadband will be available in an area (details supplied). [8121/20]

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment (Deputy Richard Bruton): Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton The government is committed to delivering high speed broadband to every home, farm, business and school in Ireland. The Question refers to premises which are located in the AMBER area on the NBP High Speed Broadband Map which is available on my Department's website at www.broadband.gov.ie. The AMBER area represents the area to be served by the network to be deployed under the NBP State led Intervention, the contract for which was signed in November last with National Broadband Ireland (NBI). 

  All counties will see premises passed in the first 2 years and over 90% of premises in the State will have access to high speed broadband within the next four years. The NBP network will offer users a high speed broadband service with a minimum download speed of 150Mbps from the outset. By the end of next year, NBI plans to pass in the region of 115,000 premises, with 70,000 - 100,000 passed each year thereafter until rollout is completed. 

  Further information on deployment activities associated with the roll out are available on NBI’s website (www.nbi.ie).

  To support remote working and connected communities, approximately 300 Broadband Connections Points (BCPs) were identified by Local Authorities to be connected to high speed broadband this year. This will assist communities to quickly get free public access to high speed broadband in advance of the main NBP deployment. The planned BCP locations, including schools, library hubs, local sports facilities and other public places are available to view on the High Speed Broadband Map on the Department’s website www.broadband.gov.ie. The BCP delivery project is well underway and surveying of the BCP locations is progressing which will facilitate detailed design and installation. BCP locations are subject to change and a number of the premises initially identified are in the process of being replaced with alternative locations. The remaining BCPs remain on track for delivery by the end of 2020. 

  The BCPs in identified public places will leverage the high speed broadband connection through a range of measures and initiatives, for example providing free public Wi-Fi, some will also have hot-desks, and some will be digital hub business centres where digital training, business information events and other SME supports are organised. 

National Broadband Plan

 733. Deputy Sorca Clarke Information on Sorca Clarke Zoom on Sorca Clarke asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton when the property at a location (details supplied) is planned to be surveyed under the National Broadband Plan. [8156/20]

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment (Deputy Richard Bruton): Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton The government is committed to delivering high speed broadband to every home, farm, business and school in Ireland. The Question refers to premises which are located in the AMBER area on the NBP High Speed Broadband Map which is available on my Department's website at www.broadband.gov.ie . The AMBER area represents the area to be served by the network to be deployed under the NBP State led Intervention, the contract for which was signed in November last with National Broadband Ireland (NBI). 

  Design work is being undertaken in targeted townlands in a number of counties, including Westmeath. Over 22,000 premises have been surveyed to date and this work is continuing. Further details regarding deployment activities associated with the roll out, including surveying activities, are available at the NBI website www.nbi.ie.

  All counties will see premises passed in the first 2 years and over 90% of premises in the State will have access to high speed broadband within the next four years. The NBP network will offer users a high speed broadband service with a minimum download speed of 150Mbps from the outset. By the end of next year, NBI plans to pass in the region of 115,000 premises, with 70,000 - 100,000 passed each year thereafter until rollout is completed.

  To support remote working and connected communities, approximately 300 Broadband Connections Points (BCPs) were identified by Local Authorities to be connected to high speed broadband this year. This will assist communities to quickly get free public access to high speed broadband in advance of the main NBP deployment. The planned BCP locations, including schools, library hubs, local sports facilities and other public places are available to view on the High Speed Broadband Map on the Department’s website www.broadband.gov.ie. The BCP delivery project is well underway and surveying of the BCP locations is progressing which will facilitate detailed design and installation. BCP locations are subject to change and a number of the premises initially identified are in the process of being replaced with alternative locations. The remaining BCPs remain on track for delivery by the end of 2020. 

  The BCPs in identified public places will leverage the high speed broadband connection through a range of measures and initiatives, for example providing free public Wi-Fi, some will also have hot-desks, and some will be digital hub business centres where digital training, business information events and other SME supports are organised.

Renewable Energy Generation

 734. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton the degree to which he continues to promote carbon reduction policies including the generation of electricity from non-fossil fuel sources; the extent to which non-fossil fuel sources currently supply the national grid as a percentage of total electricity production; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8193/20]

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment (Deputy Richard Bruton): Information on Richard Bruton Zoom on Richard Bruton The Climate Action Plan sets out how Ireland will achieve its 2030 greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets and cut emissions by 35%, and put Ireland on a trajectory consistent with net zero carbon emissions by 2050. A key part of the Plan is a move to 70% renewable electricity by 2030 through, inter alia,:

  - at least 3.5 GW of offshore renewable energy

  - up to 1.5 GW of grid-scale solar energy

  - up to 8.2 GW of onshore wind capacity

  The Plan includes a number of actions to deliver this target, including regulatory streamlining of renewables and grid development; development of the offshore renewables sector, implementation of the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS); and development of an enabling framework for micro-generation. 

  The Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland (SEAI) have calculated that at the end of 2018, 33.3% of electricity demand was met by renewable sources.The provisional figure for 2019 is 36.6%.

Tourist Accommodation

 735. Deputy Marian Harkin Information on Marian Harkin Zoom on Marian Harkin asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Shane Ross Zoom on Shane Ross when the operational guidelines regarding capacity and the use of facilities for guests will be made available and notified to the owners of self-catering holiday accommodation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7076/20]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Brendan Griffin): Information on Brendan Griffin Zoom on Brendan Griffin In line with the sequence of actions detailed in the ‘Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business’, it is my understanding that self-catering holiday accommodation is due to reopen in Phase 4. In this regard, Fáilte Ireland is currently preparing guidelines for the tourism sector in consultation with the tourism industry and relevant authorities.

I have referred the Deputy's question to Fáilte Ireland to supply any further relevant detail directly to the Deputy. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within ten working days.

  A referred reply was forwarded to the Deputy under Standing Order 51.

Motor Tax

 736. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin Information on Eoin Ó Broin Zoom on Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Shane Ross Zoom on Shane Ross when motor tax offices will reopen; and the arrangements for taxing of cars in place during the coming period. [7536/20]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Shane Ross): Information on Shane Ross Zoom on Shane Ross The online motor tax service, www.motortax.ie, through which 77% of all motor tax applications were transacted last year, continues to operate. Motor tax offices are also continuing to process postal applications in the various offices around the country. It is not possible, at this stage, to give a definitive date for the opening of public counters in motor tax offices, which will be a matter for local management in line with government advice.

Tourism Industry

 737. Deputy Robert Troy Information on Robert Troy Zoom on Robert Troy asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Shane Ross Zoom on Shane Ross if he has engaged with the tourism industry including package operators and hoteliers on the implementation of a mandatory 14-day quarantine period of international arrivals to Ireland. [7581/20]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Shane Ross): Information on Shane Ross Zoom on Shane Ross Tourism is one of the most directly affected sectors in the current crisis. The impact of COVID-19 on tourism globally has been overwhelming and immediate with unprecedented consequences for Ireland’s tourism sector.

Since late February, Minister Griffin and I, along with my Department officials have engaged with industry with a view to understanding the challenges facing the sector. We established and participate in the COVID-19 Tourism Monitoring Group. This group, made up of industry stakeholders, the tourism agencies and Department officials, has been engaged in monitoring the impact of the Covid crisis on the sector.

Minister Griffin and I have also appointed a Tourism Recovery Taskforce to prepare a Tourism Recovery Plan which will include a set of recommendations on how best the Irish tourism sector can adapt and recover in the changed tourism environment as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. The plan will identify priority aims, key enablers and market opportunities for the sector for the period 2020-2023. The Taskforce will consult as appropriate with various elements within the tourism sector in order to inform the Recovery Plan.

As regards the 14-day self-isolation regime for passengers arriving from overseas, this is a matter for the Minister for Health in the first instance. I will continue to engage with colleagues in Government, as will my officials, with regard to the impact on tourism of public health measures introduced in response to Covid-19.

Motor Tax

 738. Deputy Niamh Smyth Information on Niamh Smyth Zoom on Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Shane Ross Zoom on Shane Ross the position regarding motor tax payments for those that have been cocooning since March 2020 due to Covid-19; the rebate options open to them; and the details of same. [7818/20]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Shane Ross): Information on Shane Ross Zoom on Shane Ross In relation to refunds, the relevant legislation provides for a refund of motor tax in certain limited circumstances, where:

  - a vehicle has been scrapped or destroyed;

  - a vehicle has been permanently exported;

  - a vehicle has been stolen and has not been recovered by the owner;

  - a vehicle in respect of which a tax disc has been taken out has not been used in a   public place at any time since the issue of the disc;

  - the owner of a vehicle has ceased, because of illness, injury or other physical disability, to use the vehicle;

  - the owner of a vehicle has ceased, because of absence from the state for business or educational purposes, to use the vehicle; or

  - the owner of a vehicle has ceased, because of service overseas with the Defence Forces, to use the vehicle.

  In order to obtain a refund, there must also be a minimum of three months remaining on a disc at the time of surrender of the disc to the licensing authority.

  There are no plans currently to amend the legislation to extend the grounds for the granting of a refund.

  The Deputy should note that there is a facility in place to declare a vehicle off the road if a vehicle is not going to be in use. The Non-Use of Motor Vehicles Act 2013, as amended, provides for a system of declaring vehicles off the road in advance for motor tax purposes. The declaration must be made in the last month of an existing motor tax disc or renewed in the last month of a previously made declaration of non-use. The declaration can be made online or in a motor tax office using the following form: www.gov.ie/en/publication/4df54e-declaration-of-non-use-of-a-vehicle/.

  The declaration can be made for any number of calendar months between 3 and 12 months i.e. it cannot be made for a period of 1 or 2 months. If a vehicle is subsequently required to be put back on the road, the declaration can be broken at any time simply by taxing the vehicle.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 739. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú Information on Ruairí Ó Murchú Zoom on Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Shane Ross Zoom on Shane Ross if there is specific guidance issued for taxi and minibus companies for reopening their businesses; if drivers will be expected to use specified PPE; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7894/20]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Shane Ross): Information on Shane Ross Zoom on Shane Ross In recognition of the economic, social and logistical importance of the overall transport sector, Government designated it among the essential services to continue during the Covid-19 health emergency. Public transport, including the small public service vehicle (SPSV) industry, remains an important service for those it has continued to carry, including essential workers and those making necessary journeys, and it will continue to play an important role in supporting Government’s Roadmap to Reopening Society and Business in the weeks and months ahead.

  The National Transport Authority (NTA), as the statutory regulator for the SPSV sector, has published information for the SPSV industry which includes guidelines, based on the latest available public health advice, on how to keep vehicles clean to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This document is available on the NTA's website. The NTA are also engaging with public transport operators to determine the practical implications for public transport provision as COVID-19 restrictions are eased in Ireland.

  Given the role of the NTA as regulator, I have referred your question to the Authority for direct reply to you. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a response within 10 working days.

  A referred reply was forwarded to the Deputy under Standing Order 51.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 740. Deputy Norma Foley Information on Norma Foley Zoom on Norma Foley asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Shane Ross Zoom on Shane Ross when dive schools can reopen. [8099/20]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Shane Ross): Information on Shane Ross Zoom on Shane Ross The Government-approved Roadmap for Reopening Society and Business, and its specific phasing, is based on public health advice. Compliance with the various requirements attaching to each phase of the Roadmap is essential to ensure continued progress against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Roadmap differentiates between outdoor and indoor sporting activity. Subject to compliance with the various public health restrictions and conditions attaching to each phase, both phases one and two of the Roadmap provide for the return of certain outdoor sports and physical activities. It is however necessary for each sporting body to prepare a detailed protocol setting out the manner in which it proposes to achieve compliance with the restrictions applicable to each phase.

In the case of dive schools, this responsibility is to be discharged by The Irish Underwater Council as the National Governing Body for recreational underwater sports in Ireland. I have established an Expert Group on Return to Sport, which will provide guidance to the sporting bodies on a phase by phase basis so that they can prepare for the phased return to sporting activity in line with the Government Roadmap.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 741. Deputy Seán Crowe Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Shane Ross Zoom on Shane Ross if a response will issue to the safety requests from bus and rail unions regarding the compulsory use of masks on public transport as the lockdown resulting from Covid-19 continues. [7071/20]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Shane Ross): Information on Shane Ross Zoom on Shane Ross The Government has been clear that continued operation of the public transport sector is important, and it has been designated among the essential services that have continued to operate during the pandemic. The National Transport Authority (NTA) has been working with all transport operators to ensure service continuity, and in this they continue to be guided by the public health advice, including in relation to enhanced cleaning regimes and social distancing measures across the network.

  On Friday 15 May, in the context of announcing the first phase of re-openings under the Government's Roadmap to Re-opening Society and Business, the Taoiseach announced new public health advice arising from the considerations of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and presented in a letter from the Chief Medical Officer to the Minister for Health (and published online). The public health advice recommends that members of the public wear face coverings when they are using busy public transport or are in enclosed indoor public areas such as retail outlets. This is recommended as an additional hygiene measure. This public health advice takes the form of a recommendation; it is not mandatory.

Covid-19 Pandemic

 742. Deputy Seán Crowe Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Shane Ross Zoom on Shane Ross if he is satisfied with the response rate and failure to fill in self-quarantine documentation of those arriving at air and seaports; and the way in which he plans to respond to these failures and minimalist measures that are being ignored. [7073/20]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Shane Ross): Information on Shane Ross Zoom on Shane Ross As you are no doubt aware, the Department of Health is the lead Government Department in relation to public health matters, including COVID-19 and also measures taken at ports and airports in relation to arriving passengers.

  Measures to protect public health are decided by the National Emergency Public Health Team (NPHET) within the Department of Health, and my Department and its agencies follow their advice.

  All queries in relation to public health should therefore be directed to the Department of Health.

Consumer Rights

 743. Deputy Steven Matthews Information on Steven  Matthews Zoom on Steven  Matthews asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Shane Ross Zoom on Shane Ross if his attention has been drawn to ongoing issues regarding school tours and parents being unable to claim refunds from travel agencies (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7088/20]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Shane Ross): Information on Shane Ross Zoom on Shane Ross I am aware of difficulties across the travel sector in relation to refunds to customers and that in some instances travel companies such as travel agents may be offering vouchers or similar in respect to refund claims from customers for travel services impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, including school tours.

The EU law is clear relating to refunds for package holidays. Under the EU Package Travel Directive customers retain their right to a cash refund in circumstances where their holiday cannot proceed due to ‘unavoidable or extraordinary circumstances’, if they do not wish to reschedule for a later date or accept an alternative package. Travel agents and tour operators are required under the Directive to refund customer within 14 days of the customer requesting to cancel a package holiday.

At the same time, I am also aware that travel agents and tour operators are having difficulties themselves securing refunds from their suppliers, including airlines, and it is clear that the unprecedented scale of the impact of Covid-19 has affected the capacity of the sector to respond as it should. Whilst consumers are entitled to a cash refund, the Government has agreed to provide protection for credit notes or vouchers issued by travel agents and tour operators, if their customers agree to accept them. Under the scheme, for which legal provisions are being drafted, the State will guarantee the cash value of any such voucher - to be known as a Refund Credit Note - which can be used at a later date to rebook or can be redeemed for cash in 6 months. The idea is to give the sector some breathing space, subject on customer agreement, and it reflects recommendations made by the EU Commission. All parties - customers and travel agents - are feeling the financial impact of Covid, and the Government is trying to provide a way that gives everyone some assurance.

National Driver Licensing Service

 744. Deputy Joan Collins Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Shane Ross Zoom on Shane Ross if he will address a matter (details supplied) regarding the NDLS. [7100/20]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Shane Ross): Information on Shane Ross Zoom on Shane Ross As Minister, I have no power to intervene in individual cases.

I understand that the individual to whom the Deputy refers had a learner permit which expired in 2015, and due to the passage of time is required to begin the process again, by taking a driver theory test. As with other services, driver theory tests are currently suspended. Although the contractor is making plans to clear the inevitable backlog of applications, a date has not yet been confirmed as to when their offices can reopen, and they will only do so when they can ensure that all Covid-19 related restrictions in place at that time can be strictly adhered to.

It is not currently possible to carry out the driver theory tests remotely online, as it is vital that the identify of the candidate can be established, and that there is no possibility of fraud in relation to the taking of the test itself.

While I appreciate the inconvenience caused to people by the suspension of services, the safety of the public is of paramount importance at this time, and in this as in all aspects of the Covid-19 crisis, my Department will be guided by NPHET and national experts.

Driver Test

 745. Deputy Martin Kenny Information on Martin Kenny Zoom on Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Shane Ross Zoom on Shane Ross when driver tests will resume; the support that will be provided to those persons on learner permits and are disadvantaged financially and socially by not being able to drive their car without a qualified driver with them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7105/20]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Shane Ross): Information on Shane Ross Zoom on Shane Ross Due to the closure of services provided by the Road Safety Authority (RSA) as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, I took measures to extend the validity of number of documents, including the learner permit. Any learner permits which were due to expire from 1 March 2020 to 30 June 2020 inclusive have had their period of validity extended by 4 months.

The RSA is currently working, in consultation with my Department, on plans for the resumption of the range of services and functions for which it is responsible, following the publication of the Government roadmap and, more recently, the National Return to Work Safety Protocol as agreed by employer and trade union representatives.

The resumption of driver testing will be of particular concern to learner drivers. As the Deputy will appreciate, the driving test raises particular problems in terms of compliance with the Protocol and in particular social distancing rules, as it requires the driver tester and the candidate to be within a two metre distance continuously for a period in excess of 20 minutes, in a very confined space which is not in itself a workplace under the control of the RSA.

I appreciate that the inability to carry out driving tests at this time is among the many difficulties that we all are having to endure at this time, for those awaiting such tests. On a very preliminary appraisal of the Protocol, car driving tests may have to be the last of the statutory functions, for which the RSA is responsible, to recommence in or after Phase 5 of the Government's roadmap. Those on learner permits can continue to use this time to practise their driving, once they have a suitably qualified driver with them at all times.

Dates for the resumption of the RSA's services, and any special arrangements which will need to be put into place to allow for the provision of these services, will be determined in consultation with the relevant health authorities.

The safety of the public is of paramount importance at this time, whether from infection or from deaths and injuries on the road, and in this as in all aspects of the Covid-19 crisis, my Department will be guided by NPHET and national experts.

Ministerial Meetings

 746. Deputy Catherine Connolly Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport Information on Shane Ross Zoom on Shane Ross the number of times he formally met with either the chairperson and or the CEO of Dublin Bus, Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann to date in 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7106/20]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Shane Ross): Information on Shane Ross Zoom on Shane Ross I had one such formal meeting, with the Chairperson and the Chief Executive of Bus Éireann on 14 May 2020. I am regularly briefed by my Department about matters in all the companies, and my Department has frequent engagement with them on both a scheduled and ad hoc basis.


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