“IT is an absolute disgrace,” fumed Cllr John Joe Fennelly on learning that Laois County Council will no longer be an issuing authority for driving licences.
Laois Motor Taxation section boasted a three-day turnaround in the issuing of licences, however from January 12 next they will cease processing applications with responsibility transferring to the centralised National Driving Licence Service (NDLS).
Current paper driving licence and learner permits will be replaced by credit card-sized, plastic licences in an EU-wide change to upgrade all driving licences.
The cost of licences is also set to increase dramatically from January 1. A ten-year licence that previously cost €25 rises to €55, three-year licence from €15 to €35 and a one-year licence from €5 to €25.
Operating under the remit of the Road Safety Authority (RSA), the NDLS will, according to RSA chief Noel Brett, contribute to improvements in road safety.
“By eliminating the risk of forgeries and streamlining the process, this will help reduce the number of motorists driving illegally and ultimately contribute to safer roads.”
Rebecca Gillespie of Laois Motor Taxation section said it was her understanding that three agencies will make up the NDLS and it is planned to have issuing offices situated within 50km of each other.
“We’re getting rid of a service that is operating effectively. Doesn’t that beat Banagher,” said Cllr Fennelly, who earlier called on Environment Minister Phil Hogan to overturn the move.
Cllr John Moran also sought a reversal of the decision and he was supported by Cllr Padraig Fleming.
“We’ve seen the devastation to people’s lives when things go centrally. Look at SUSI and the issuing of third level grants. This is a sad day for Laois. Everything seems to be taken away from County Councils,” said Cllr Fleming.
County Manager Peter Carey said the decision was regrettable and surveys had shown Laois was one of the best for dealing with licence applications.
“It is a record we are proud of and there was a huge customer convenience factor,” he said.
He ackowledged the contribution of staff who administered the service. And while the switch to NDLS is a fait accompli, Cllr Fleming felt the motion seeking a reversal should still be passed on.
Cllr John King said removing the service from Laois was unfair on elderly people, particularly those not familiar with IT.
Cllr Hand referred to the difficulties associated with SUSI and said the marked increase in the cost of a new driving licence will be a burden on low income families. “I don’t think the RSA will have a three-day turnaround.”
Cllr Mary Sweeney praised the efficiency and professionalism of Laois Motor Tax staff and said the move didn’t represent progress.
Cllr Tom Mulhall wondered what services will be left locally in five years time and what will the impact of this be on future revenues.
Cllr Brendan Phelan said it was a bad day for local democracy.
Ms Gillespie thanked councillors for their compliments and explained that the new credit card-style licences will issue from January 19 next year and the staff won’t be in a position to issue emergency licences.
The expectancy is that by 2013 all licences will be credit card-size. And replying to Cllr Rotimi Adebari, Ms Gillespie said drivers are only required to get a new licence when their current one expires.