Review of proposed tractor testing measures a ‘victory for common sense’

News that the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport will revisit proposed tractor testing measures has been described as a “victory for common sense“.

Following a meeting this afternoon, the department has agreed to roll back on measures revealed recently, which indicated that tractors with a maximum design speed in excess of 40kph (‘fast’ tractors) would be liable for road-worthiness testing if they were used for commercial road haulage – including the haulage of agricultural produce.

However, testing would only become a requirement if the ‘fast’ tractor was travelling in excess of 25km from its base under these proposed measures.

At a meeting organised by the Road Safety Authority in October, it was revealed that the Minister for Transport Shane Ross had signed a Statutory Instrument (SI) to enforce regulations relating to the road-worthiness testing of ‘fast’ tractors.

But this evening Minister Ross has directed his officials to review the regulations and, as a matter of urgency and subject to legal advice, to ensure that they do not take effect in advance of an upcoming review.

The minister said: “As everyone knows, I am absolutely committed to do everything I can as minister to ensure road safety. That is why I am determined that Ireland complies with latest EU directives on testing vehicles for their road-worthiness – not just because of our obligations under EU law.

“However, it is important that we do that in a practical and enforceable way – that delivers the aims of the directive, while taking account of Irish conditions. Following today’s very constructive meeting between the sector and my officials, I have asked them to look again at the text of the regulations.

Subject to legal advice and further engagement with the sector, I intend to bring forward alternative proposals as a matter of urgency.

“In the meantime, I am looking at means to ensure that the current text does not take effect with any unintended consequences.”

‘A victory for common sense’

This evening’s revelation has been welcomed by farm organisations and rural representatives alike. Commenting on the matter, Independent TD Mattie McGrath said: “This is a victory for common sense.

I can only hope that if and when similar regulations are considered in the future, that they will be formulated by those who have some clue about the daily challenges that farmers face in order to carry out their work.

“For now at least, a sensible and rational approach has been adopted and that is to be welcomed,” he said.

It is believed that a technical working group will be established in order to discuss potential measures to be introduced. A further meeting on the road-worthiness testing of tractors is set to take place in the next week or two.

Meanwhile, the lack of consultation regarding the introduction of this directive has resulted in “ludicrous proposals” being put forward – such as the unworkable 25km rule, the president of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA), Patrick Kent, explained.

This has resulted in widespread panic amongst farmers who felt they were going to be penalised for simply carrying out their farming activities.

“A process of engagement with stakeholders has now begun, which will hopefully bring a sense of clarity to the situation. The ICSA will be pressing the department to ensure that NCTs will not apply to tractors used for the purposes of farming or agricultural contracting,” Kent said.

‘Impractical’ measures

Developments at the meeting organised by the RSA last month were met with widespread opposition from the farming community.

It is as a result of this backlash that the Department of Transport has decided to accept the “impractical nature of the changes mooted“, according to the president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) John Comer.

He added that the ICMSA is happy, as part of the stakeholder consultation process, to work with the department on the development of a new proposal.

Comer was confident that the 25km travel distance limit would be scrapped altogether and that the haulage of any agricultural produce would be permitted going forward – regardless of whether the harvesting or haulage of that produce was the primary activity.

Broken promises?

During today’s meeting, the Department of Transport reportedly accepted that a commitment regarding the engagement of key stakeholders prior to the drafting of any national regulations on tractor road-worthiness testing had not been honoured.

There was an acceptance that the consultation process promised to stakeholders will now take place in full, with all aspects up for negotiation, the president of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), Joe Healy, said.

“We will now get down to negotiations with the minister and the department to ensure that normal farming activities are excluded from tractor testing.

We expect all tractors used for farming and for bringing farm produce and raw materials to and from the point of sale will not be subject to testing.

Furthermore, Liam Dunne – the chairman of the IFA’s National Grain Committee – believes it is very important that the realities of farming and the obligations that farmers already face are taken into consideration during the upcoming consultation process.

“Famers are legally required under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 to ensure that brakes, handbrake, mirrors, lights, indicators, wipers and hitches are all in working order.

“There is no need to duplicate the requirements imposed on farmers,” Dunne added.

‘Everyone singing off the same hymn sheet’

The result of today’s meeting was described as a great day for Irish farmers and agricultural contractors by Independent TD for the Roscommon-Galway constituency Michael Fitzmaurice.

There were representatives there from all the different farm organisations. It was great to see everyone singing off the same hymn sheet.

“In fairness, the department officials recognised the problems brought forward and held their hands up,” Fitzmaurice said.

Wheels are already in motion to combat the SI signed by Minister Ross at the end of September, he explained.

The rural TD also added that the joined-up thinking of all the various farm organisations present at the meeting showed what can be achieved through co-operation.