After “exhaustive searching” the Department of Transport said this week that they could find no records showing former transport minister Leo Varadkar was informed of issues with the law covering cycle lanes, an official said responding to a Freedom of Information request made by IrishCycle.com.
Before he moved from the transport ministry, Varadkar thanked members of the public for emailing him their support for him revoking the general requirement of mandatory use of cycle lanes, or cycle tracks as they are officially known. The change excluded contra-flow tracks and cycle tracks in pedestrian areas.
We already reported that he thanked one member of the public, but we now understand that the same email was sent to at least a few members of the public who thanked the minister for changing the law.
The issue was not one which was only addressed by written replies by people around the minister, in a Dail debate Varadkar showed a clear understanding of the problem with mandatory use of cycle lanes and he made it clear that it was government policy to revoke it.
In the Dail, Minister Varadkar said: “This is an easy one. The deputy asks if there are plans to remove the mandatory use requirement for cycle lanes. The removal of the requirement to use cycle lanes where provided is one of the undertakings in the national cycle policy framework. Where a cycle lane is provided, cyclists are required to use it, even if it is damaged or in a bad condition or inappropriate to use it. The government agrees that the regulation should be changed and it will be.”
The removal of the requirement of cyclists to use some cycle lanes was widely viewed as done and dusted in secondary legislation called SI 332/2012 — the explanatory note under the legislation still says as much. But readers alerted IrishCycle.com to a change in the Rules of the Road, the current edition of which still has a line which implies cyclists should use all cycle tracks.
We then contacted the Department of Transport and an official press office statement confirmed that it was the department’s view that mandatory use was still in place. We know that others have since confirmed the same from the department independently of our contact with them.
The Department of Transport claims that the explanatory note is the only thing in error — and, it claims, that does not matter because it does not directly form part of the legislation.
But Varadkar seems to been left in the dark over this issue, which — even in 2013 — he continued accepting members of the public thanking him for fixing the issue. Cycling groups also welcomed the change in the law in 2012 after it was changed.
Under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Acts, IrishCycle.com requested any records — including notes, briefing papers, meeting records etc — which shows that the Varadkar was informed that SI 332/2012 did not revoke the general requirement of mandtory use of cycle tracks (excluding contra-flow tracks and cycle tracks in pedestrian areas).
Nicola Hayes, the assistant principal officer at the road safety division of the Department of Transport, replied to that FOI request.
“I am sorry to inform you that, following an exhaustive search for the records your are seeking, in both paper and electronic format, we have no such correspondence,” she said.
The requests was refused as there was no available documents to release, which is standard in such cases.
As it is not covered by his current portfolio, Minister Varadkar was contacted via his constituency office for comment, he has so-far not replied.
When previously reporting on this topic we asked the Department of Transport if Varadkar was told about the issue, but the department has yet to reply without referring to Shane Ross, rather than the previous minister.
Cycling groups have rejected the department’s new view on the law. for example, Colm Ryder, chairman of Cyclist.ie which is an umbrella group for most cycling campaigns in Ireland, said: “The latest statement from the Department of Transport’s press office indicates a completely different interpretation on mandatory use to that outlined in SI 332/2012. Cyclist.ie, the Irish Cycling Advocacy Network is extremely disappointed with the department’s about turn on this issue, its clear misinterpretation of SI 332/2012, its apparent refutation of national policy on the issue, and the lack of consultation with cycling advocates.”