Events, dear boy, events… well yes, look at the Provisional Driving License fiasco… October 26, 2007Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Politics.
Well, now there’s no surprise. Clicking over to Politics.ie what does one see but a nascent campaign against the latest attempt by the Government to reform the Driving License situation. In a mass mobilisation that has those of us who have struggled long and hard on numerous political issues weeping into our pints the airwaves have been filled, and now the internet is aflame, with the fury of those who have discovered that the de facto and the de jure are two completely different animals. At least from next week.
No longer will our roads be filled with hundreds of thousands of drivers on Provisional Licenses. A new system of permits is coming in. The madness of first, second and third Provisionals is on its way out. Driving test waiting times of an ‘average’ of 18 weeks will cut through those drivers like the proverbial… well something or another. Our roads will be correspondingly safer.
Except I can’t see any of that working in practice. And for once on a semi-political issue it’s not just me, but a whole heap of people. Because this idea, beautifully crafted by the Minster for Transport Noel Dempsey, burnished to a high reflectivity and all ready for implementation has one major flaw.
It can’t possibly work. The hundreds of thousands don’t have even a notionally capable public transport system to take up their numbers. They number amongst them not merely the boy and girl racers, but also fairly stolid folk of varying years who have – for good or bad – taken advantage of a system that the government (and not just this one) found expedient to retain. And this isn’t just the margins, nor is it the taxi drivers (another group where one sort of expedience was replaced by quite another) who faced public antagonism over decades and therefore were politically speaking fair game. This is actually something close to Middle Ireland, and note how Fine Gael have been quick to capitalise upon the discontent.
Discontent sufficient to see the Minister say that:
…following concerns raised about the short period in which some drivers will have to make new arrangements, the garda authorities will take a ‘common sense’ approach for ‘two or three months’.
Which does not quite jibe with what the Gardai were saying today through a spokesperson:
The spokesman said gardaí would not be using their discretion on a case-by-case basis in relation to provisional drivers and would enforce the law as normal when it comes into effect next week.
How interesting (although to be fair the Garda in charge of Traffic Division was in much more emollient form in the Irish Times today). Still, one has to wonder what exactly were the thoughts around the Cabinet table when this particular policy first saw the light of political day. Did no one stop to think that there might be something of a populist backlash, that the time frame of imposition didn’t come close to matching up the waiting times for tests (full disclosure, I’m currently looking at the guts of 45 weeks for a test in Raheny – by the time I get there perhaps I’ll be in my 43rd year, although I cycle everywhere and where I don’t I take a taxi or train). That the myriad of discontents and furies within the society which don’t get an airing at Election time because people don’t want to rock the boat (i.e. see Fianna Fáil out of office) might leap aboard a bandwagon so perfectly formed for our times. After all, when it comes down to it, is not the prevailing narrative in our society one centered around work and working and so on and so forth?
In the Irish Times there is more:
The Minister also displayed his frustration that the enforcement of the regulations for provisional drivers was detracting from the 126 other measures in the road safety strategy.
“I wish to God the rest of the road safety strategy was getting the same attention from the media. The law will come in on Tuesday. The order is signed . . . the enforcement of the law and how that is going to happen.
Well yes. And no. He’s right, but he’s not displaying any great political instinct if he thinks the aspirational will have a greater impact than the everyday. And in a way that’s what is so disappointing about this whole – and to me somewhat theoretical – argument. There are good strong arguments for change. Something has to be done. But, as the joke goes, I wouldn’t start from here.
The most obvious strategy would be to line up all the ducks in a row. And to phase in the changes in stages, say across 18 months. Long enough to give fair warning, short enough to audit progress. A greater spend on public transport linked very openly to these changes (and something that would be applauded by the coalition partners in the Green Party). Roll out the new buses and rolling stock. Rip up the old Provisional Licenses before the cameras and wave the new Permits cheerily. Ensure all get to testing within – say – three months at most. Noel’s your uncle, and away we go.
There, it’s not that difficult is it?
Which makes me wonder why that wasn’t the strategy adopted. Because surely someone around the table must have thought ‘uh-oh’. And perhaps Noel Dempsey is wondering much the same this evening.