Opening Statement to Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communication on Forthcoming EU Council of Transport Ministers’ meeting

9th December, 2015

Good morning everyone – I am very pleased to appear before the committee to discuss the Transport Council in Brussels tomorrow which I will be attending.


The focus is on a policy debate on the social aspects of Road Transport and on Road Safety.


Apart from these discussions, there are also a number of information items under Any Other Business, including the EU’s Aviation Strategy.




I would like to mention a number of EU road transport developments.


Firstly, as part of a new package of EU road transport legislation that is expected in 2016, the Commission has been undertaking a wide-ranging review of road transport legislation.


The Commission has identified a number of difficulties that Member States have encountered in the application and enforcement of existing legislation, and plans to introduce a new Road Package in 2016 to clarify and simplify existing rules.

This will allow for more uniform application and enforcement of rules and create a framework for a sustainable, cost-effective and interoperable electronic system of road charging across the Community.


An evaluation of the existing legislation has been carried out by the Commission.  The new Road Package will now go through a number of stages – including public consultation; meetings with Member States; consultations on specific topics; and impact assessments – before the Commission presents its proposals in 2016.


My Department will continue to engage in all aspects of the development of the new Road Package through participation in Commission Road Transport Working Groups and on-going liaison with Commission services.


In addition, the Commission’s Road Transport Committee has voted in favour of a new draft Regulation to supplement Regulation 1071 of 2009, with regard to the classification of serious infringements that may lead to the loss of good repute by a road transport operator and consequently the withdrawal of their operator licence.


Infringements are to be uniformly classified as serious, very serious and most serious.  The harmonised categorisation of infringements is important in ensuring more consistent enforcement across Member States.


The purpose of the new Regulation is to define the degree of seriousness of infringements by reference to the risk of fatalities or serious injuries and to provide the frequency of occurrence beyond which repeated infringements are to be escalated to a more serious level.


Such repeated infringements may lead to loss of good repute by a road transport operator and consequently the withdrawal of their operator licence.


The next steps will be to present the draft Regulation to Council and Parliament for decision.




Another point to note is that a Regulation has recently been passed by the European Parliament providing for technologically updated “smart” tachograph machines for recording drivers’ hours. Tachographs record the driving time and speed of vehicles, and are used to determine compliance with driving time rules.


Since 2006, all new HGVs and buses are fitted with digital tachographs, which use driver cards to record driving and rest time data. The new Regulation aims to improve the security, effectiveness, and efficiency of tachograph machines. The Regulation comes into effect from March 2016 and manufacturers subsequently have three years in which to introduce the new generation tachograph machines in all new vehicles.

The new machines will allow for automatic recording using satellite technology, eventual remote access by enforcement authorities, and potential interface with other transport technology systems.




I would like to update the Committee on the issue of the difficulties facing Irish hauliers in recent months at Calais and Dover Ports.


A number of Irish hauliers have been fined by the UK authorities for carrying clandestine migrants into the UK from France.   Fines are levied on both the haulage operator and the driver of the truck when migrants are discovered.  The fines are reduced significantly, or waived, if the operator and driver can show that all necessary precautions were taken to avoid illegal entry of migrants onto their trucks.


My Department officials have informed the Irish haulage sector of the security measures required by the UK authorities. We have agreed a process of information exchange with the UK authorities to monitor the situation in relation to Irish hauliers.


A number of fines have been cancelled or reduced where operators and/or drivers can show the UK authorities that the required procedures were followed.


The situation at Calais and Dover has abated considerably in recent weeks.

However, the recent attacks in Paris have resulted in increased security measures generally across the EU and this may have a bearing on the situation.


My Department is continuing to keep a watching brief and to maintain communication with the UK authorities.




For the discussion on road safety, I will be focussing my intervention on the specific questions Ministers have been asked to focus on.


Firstly I plan to briefly outline the new initiatives Ireland is planning to take in 2016 to reduce the number of fatalities and/or serious road injuries, especially regarding vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists.


I will be focussing on relevant planned RSA activities in 2016, which include;


  • an education program ‘Mobility Matters’, rolled out nationally via active retirement groups to increase road safety awareness for older people;
  • A new junior cycle programme to be provided to schools targeting children 13-16 years with the aim of reducing fatalities and injuries in this vulnerable road user group;
  • A new intervention being developed to highlight the danger of low level speeding (travelling a few kms above the speed limit) and the consequences of this for vulnerable road users.


I will be saying that;


  • Mass media campaigns in Ireland will continue to prioritise the issue of driver distraction as well as focussing on the issues of drink-driving, non-seatbelt wearing, and worn tyres, and that
  • A new education campaign is being planned in 2016 to support the introduction of preliminary roadside testing for drugs


I will be saying that an EU target to reduce serious road injuries would help in providing each Member Country with a benchmark from which performance could be measured.


Such an EU target would further facilitate and give impetus to the difficult task of producing a comprehensive set of serious road injury data through the linking of multiple sources of data such as hospitals, law enforcement and insurance.


I will also be saying that it would be beneficial if each country could have access to a central technical group at EU level with expertise in this area.


The RSA have pointed out that such a central resource with expertise in the area of ICD (International classification of disease & health problems) coding, data transformations, linking of datasets and data protection would further enhance the process and the ease with which the serious injury data can be captured.


Finally, I will be saying that Ireland is happy to examine any measures at EU–level that might assist us in addressing cross-border enforcement of penalty point / demerit point systems.




Under “Any Other Business” tomorrow, information will be given on a number of items including the EU Aviation Strategy.


Ireland supports revitalisation of efforts by the European Commission to advance the aviation agenda, in particular to enhance aviation safety and to address the competitiveness of the EU aviation sector.


We will examine the Commission’s communication and the legislative proposals when they are adopted and published.


It is too early to comment in detail on the strategy but a small number of general observations may be made:




  • We are very supportive of efforts to update the European Aviation Safety Agency’s (EASA) Basic Regulation on safety of the aviation sector, particularly to include provisions for safe operation of drones.  Extension of EASA’s remit to cover some aspects of aviation security may also be appropriate insofar as there are essential interfaces between safety and security, but we will need to carefully consider the detail of these proposals.


  • In relation to the social dialogue in aviation and the establishment of an EU observatory on jobs and employment, we note that work is already underway in this sphere. The regulations on social issues need to be such that they can be clearly understood by operators and do not pose a threat to competitiveness.  It will be important to ensure that discussions take place in the appropriate fora in the recognition that labour law applies to all sectors and not just to aviation.


  • Ireland actively supports EU efforts to negotiate full open skies agreements with third countries.  However, there needs to be an emphasis on full implementation of existing agreements and completion of negotiations on agreements for which the Commission already has mandates.







Other AOB items on the agenda include;


  • Results of investigation of the crash of the flight MH17 with information from the Netherlands delegation.


  • Election of the Council for 2016-19 of the International Civil Aviation Organization or ICAO with information from the Bulgarian, Cypriot, Czech, Greek, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian, Slovenian and Slovak delegations.


  • The state of play on ratification of the Luxembourg Protocol on Matters Specific to Railway Rolling Stock to the Convention on International Interests in Mobile Equipment – Information from the Presidency.


  • Rail transport security with information from the Commission on the state of play, requested by the French delegation and the work program of the incoming Presidency from the Netherlands delegation.


I thank the Chairman for the invitation to discuss the Transport Council and I welcome any questions that members may have.