DUP MLA and Chair of the Assembly’s Infrastructure Committee Michelle McIlveen has welcomed support for her proposal to recall MLAs to discuss the crisis facing young learners in Northern Ireland – who face a delay stretching into next year before taking their driving test.
Commenting after securing backing for an emergency meeting of the Committee on Thursday, Ms McIlveen said:
‘‘I am pleased that my request for an extraordinary Committee meeting has been approved. As this situation nears crisis point, it is vital that the serious concerns expressed by those young people waiting to secure a driving test are given a focused and passionate voice.
Earlier today DfI confirmed what we already suspected to be the case. The backlog of 3,000 cases being prioritised by Minister relates only to requests by key workers and those whose appointments were previously cancelled.
By the end of October we will only be at a stand-still position. Learners seeking to book a new test will still be no closer to getting on the road for education, work or pleasure.
DVA operators are still working on the basis that general booking will not open until the 1 November.
To make matters worse Departmental officials are now telling customers to expect a 3 to 4-month delay beyond average waiting times to take their test. This would push first tests for many of our young people well into the new year. Thousands of homes and workplaces would be affected, and the livelihoods of local driving instructors put under further pressure.
This situation is completely unacceptable. It is not something the public or we as elected representatives should be willing to accept - nor is it something the Minister or officials can continue to deflect from.
DfI and the DVA must urgently work together to increase capacity and bring better outcomes in the coming weeks. This work should have been done weeks ago. This should mean reviewing the number of examiners and slots available.
Moving ahead there are serious concerns around the DVA’s ability to deal with an influx of requests when general booking eventually does reopen. Overall, there is a need for more sustainable, streamlined and user-friendly structures for customers, including contingencies should a second wave of Covid-19 emerge over the winter.
I and my colleagues will be raising these concerns at Thursday’s Committee. Although responsibility for this chaos rests with the Minister - and the absence of a coherent and ambitious plan for restoring services - we have a duty to work collectively to secure a fairer and more constructive outcome for our young people.’’