Mid Ulster MLA Keith Buchanan has said the Infrastructure Minister continues to deny reality about the problems facing people attempting to secure an appointment for a practical driving test.
The DUP MLA said, "In response to my colleague Joanne Bunting in the Assembly Chamber today the Minister likened difficulties faced in booking a driving test to those booking dinner in a restaurant. Such a comment unfortunately appears to sum up the Minister's dismissive attitude to the problems people are facing in relation to driving tests.
She has sought to dismiss the fact that 23,000 people are likely to be waiting for tests given the number of tests carried out during the equivalent period in previous years. Whilst challenging this figure the Minister has never given any alternative assessment, other than a ridiculous claim made in August that "it will take six to eight weeks to clear the backlog". Back in the real world however, many people have found it impossible to secure any appointment at all.
The Minister had also announced that the online system would open at
8am on Monday. At points on Sunday evening however there were well in
excess of 3,000 people queuing on the system. Many of those who waited
until Monday morning now feel cheated out of an equal opportunity to
secure a driving test appointment because the Department couldn't even
manage to get a website to go live at an agreed time.
When challenged today on the system's early opening the Minister simply stated "a number" of people accessed the site, but refused to reveal how many. She then went on to portray this some kind of unexpected bonus because it "inadvertantly eased the pressure on the system the following morning".
A month after the Minister was brought before a special meeting of the Infrastructure Committee, the Minister does not yet have a proper plan in place. She is still "exploring" options for additional testing slots, whilst the recruitment process for a few additional examiners is not complete.
The Minister today talked about an "evidential basis" for the assessment that the true backlog of driving tests could be as high as 23,000. I will be tabling questions to the Minister now to see what figures her Department have in relation to demand faced by the online booking system within the first few hours of it opening. Perhaps those may help the Minister finally face the reality of the problems people across Northern Ireland are facing with this system."