I am currently working with Ambassor Ray Bassett on the issue of reciprocal agreements on Driving Licences with the Canadian Provinces and Ireland. I believe this would be a positive step in the growing links between Ireland and Canada. Below is a matter of the Adjournment I put to the Minister for Transport Tourism and Sport.
Senator Mark Daly: The issue I raise is simple. What is the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport doing on behalf of up to 8,000 Irish citizens who will travel to Canada this year to find work? We do not have an agreement in place with Canada with regard to driving licences and these people must sit the driving test again, both the written exam and the driving test, as if they had provisional licences . Not only is this inconvenient, but it delays them finding jobs as most jobs require a full licence. There is also an issue with regard to insurance as they are treated as if they are first-time drivers. This issue could be resolved easily if we put in place a scheme like that in the North and in England, which have an arrangement with Canada to provide that Canadian citizens arriving there can exchange their licence for an English one and vice versa when English people go to Canada. This allows for their years of driving experience to be taken into account for insurance purposes.
The Department of Transport has said that it does not deal at a sub-national level with authorities or with other than their equivalent Department of Transport or the equivalent body. However, in Canada licensing is done on a provincial basis, where each province has its own licensing system and issues its own licences. Therefore, our Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport is not willing to engage on this issue. This beggars belief. I raised this issue yesterday at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, because it concerns foreign affairs, but it is also an issue for the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. It is a concern for Irish citizens who must go abroad for work. While I do not expect a world-shattering response, I would point out that it should be just a simple processing matter. However, there must be the will to deal with it. Does the will exist within the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to engage with the Canadian authorities at a sub-national level to put in place a mechanism to provide for Irish people to arrive in Canada with their full Irish driving licence and exchange for a provincial licence there? I hope the Minister of State’s response is enlightening and I urge him to raise this issue with the Minister for Transport.
Deputy Ciarán Cannon: I am taking this adjournment debate on behalf on my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, who unfortunately cannot attend the Chamber this evening. I thank Senator Daly for the opportunity to address this issue today.
The Minister is aware that concerns have been raised that Irish citizens in Canada are unable to drive there on their Irish driving licences, owing to the fact that there is currently no mutual recognition arrangement between Ireland and Canada regarding driver licensing. There has been communication on this matter with the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport is sympathetic to the position of Irish citizens in this regard and has asked the Road Safety Authority, the body dealing with driver licensing matters, to explore the issues concerned. He also understands that the Irish embassy in Canada has been in touch with the authorities in the Canadian provinces to see if they are interested in reaching some form of agreement. As Senator Daly pointed out, driver licensing operates at a provincial rather than national level in Canada. Preliminary indications of interest from the Canadian authorities have been very positive.
However, the Minister believes it is important to remember that facilitating the Irish abroad is not the only consideration at issue here. Any mutual recognition arrangement would mean that Irish residents in Canada could exchange their driving licences for Canadian ones and that Canadian residents in Ireland could exchange their licences for Irish ones. The Irish Government, and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport in particular, must take into account at all times the standards and qualifications required for people to be able to drive on our roads. For this reason, any driver licence exchange relationships entered into are always preceded by detailed study and comparison of the licence system in the other state as against the Irish system to ensure that the two systems are compatible. By definition, the Minister cannot guarantee what the outcome of such a comparison would be. While he would be very happy to be able to reach an agreement with Canadian authorities in this matter, he cannot prejudge whether such an arrangement will turn out to be feasible.
A further consideration to bear in mind is that Irish driver licensing rules operate within the framework of an EU-wide licensing system. The criteria essential for recognition of licences from other countries are testing and licensing regimes which meet the requirement of the ED directive on driver licences. On this basis Ireland recognises licences from and has mutual recognition and exchange of licence arrangements with other EU member states and a number of other jurisdictions, where research and discussion has shown that the standards operating in those jurisdictions match those here.
The Minister awaits with interest the outcome of the RSA’s examination of Canada’s licensing systems against this background. He hopes that it will be possible to reach
agreement, but must caution that agreement is only possible if we can be satisfied that those who would be allowed to drive on our roads as a result of such agreement are indeed qualified to a standard acceptable within this jurisdiction.
Senator Mark Daly: I thank the Minister of State for his response. I note the case is that the Department is doing some research on the issue and cannot guarantee the outcome. Logic would suggest our driving test is not dissimilar to that in England. If England can do it, we should not have to wait too long. We do not need to send anybody to Canada to research the issue; all we need is to send them to London. The research should be pretty much the same as the standards there are similar to ours. I note there is an issue with regard to a convention on drivers that we did not ratify. Making a judgment and deciding a timeline are the issues. How long will this take? I suppose we can raise the issue again in the autumn, but it is causing difficulties for Irish people. Someone from Tyrone who has done pretty much the same test as somebody from Monaghan can go to Canada and exchange his licence, but the guy from Monaghan is at a disadvantage. We should not put our citizens at a disadvantage because of a process issue.
Deputy Ciarán Cannon: It is important to point out that engagement with the provincial authorities has begun and is ongoing. I concur with Senator Daly that it should not take too long to reach a conclusion, considering the history that exists between the UK and Canada and the two systems being quite similar.