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DUP South Belfast MLA Christopher Stalford has said the abject failure by the Minister for Infrastructure Nichola Mallon to tackle the backlog in driving tests is disproportionately punishing young people across Northern Ireland.

Commenting after raising the issue with the First and Deputy First Minister during a meeting of Committee for the Executive Office at Stormont, Mr Stalford said

“This Minister has been dithering on support for the haulage sector, taxi sector, coach sector and has failed to get to grips with the rising backlog in driving tests. It’s time for the Executive to put special measures in place as the Minister is failing.

Officials records show that prior to Covid-19 on average 4,700 practical tests were carried out every month in Northern Ireland. For at least five months during this crisis there were none at all. Given that local examiners have been unable to carry out their usual number of appointments because of public health mitigations, it is likely that the estimate of 23,000 people waiting on a test is not only accurate but modest.

When Michelle McIlveen, as the Chairman of the Infrastructure Committee convened a special sitting about driving tests weeks ago, the Minister confirmed that examiners could only do five tests per day rather than the normal six.

Given that the DUP has been raising this issue since July, it is especially disappointing that the process to recruit 12 temporary vehicle examiners is only now underway. This alone does not go far enough.

Yesterday in the Assembly the Minister claimed that Northern Ireland was performing better in delivering driving tests than other regions, including the Republic of Ireland, where there is an eight-month waiting list for an appointment. However what evidence has she presented to back this up?

The public deserve more than hollow words. Young people in rural communities are being disproportionately impacted. They demand straight answers to the most basic questions.

  • 1. How many tests have been booked online since the system reopened?
  • 2. What period will this cover?
  • 3. How many more people are still waiting to secure an appointment?
  • 4. By how much will testing capacity increase by Christmas?
  • 5. Will there be evening and weekend appointments?
  • 6. Why did the appointment system open a day early, thus catching people unawares?

The Minister’s dither and delay approach can not go unchallenged.

I have urged the First and Deputy First Minister to take an active and direct interest in the coming days. I am pleased that they have committed to raising the issue at tomorrow’s Executive meeting. As we seek to prevent further harm and disruption for young people across Northern Ireland no stone can remained unturned.”