Housing estates, council land, parks, private land and even crops on farmland in north Louth are being destroyed by the use of scrambler bikes, according to Sinn Féin TD Ruairí Ó Murchú who is calling for a change in legislation to allow Gardai to more forcefully deal with the problem nationwide.
The party tabled a motion in Dáil Éireann on Tuesday seeking a law change that would enable Gardai to more easily seize and then detain scramblers and quad bikes if they are being driven in a dangerous manner in public or on private land without permission.
In five years between 2014 and 2019, six people have died in Ireland in incidents involving scrambler or quad bikes. Three of those were aged under 18.
Speaking in support of the motion on Tuesday evening, Deputy Ó Murchú said he and councillors in north Louth have dealt with “countless” complaints from constituents in the area about the use of such vehicles.
“In Dundalk and elsewhere in County Louth I have dealt with countless constituents, as have many other Members in their areas, who are worried about the issue of scramblers and quad bikes racing through streets and community green spaces at all hours of the day and night,” he said.
“I refer to estates in Dundalk, council land, parks, private land and even farmland on the edge of town where crops were destroyed by scramblers.
The TD said that use of scramblers for sport or work purposes was fair and he encouraged that, once they were used in a “controlled environment.” He also linked youths’ use of the vehicles for recreation to a lack of adequate funding for youth services nationwide.
“I accept that some people use quad bikes and scramblers for essential work and for sport. I get that young people are lured to adrenaline sports. I would be the first to try out one of these bikes. As many would attest, I would also be the first to fall off the bike and do myself an injury,” he continued. “The use of these bikes for sport must take place in a controlled environment with rules, regulations and checks.
“Facilitating that needs to be explored, but that will not really happen until we deal with the serious issue of the underfunding of youth services and local authorities and the significant issue of insurance. Every summer, I have received calls regarding groups of kids in fields with scramblers and quads, drinking and doing whatever else and causing havoc for hours on end.
“I refer to parents with autistic children who are sensitive to noise and have to go through what, for them, is an absolute nightmare.”
The first term TD also alluded to scramblers being used for drug runs, in some instances.
In July, Gardai in county Louth said they will prosecute anyone found to not be in possession of a requisite license for quad bikes and scrambler bikes.
Several instances of scrambler bike use on beaches such as Clogherhead and Port had been reported over the summer months, while there was also an increase of the use of the bikes in an anti-social manner in residential areas like Fatima in Dundalk and Rathmullan Park in Drogheda.
Chief Superintendent for Louth Christy Mangan said at the time that those persons on the bikes must have all necessary documents and licenses for the vehicles. “We will prosecute,” he said.
Chief Supt Mangan also confirmed that Gardai had taken scrambler bikes off persons in Rathmullan in Drogheda. Former Dundalk Superintendent Gerry Curley also said the bikes are a problem in towns and in the forestry areas as well – while he also stated there was merit in investigating the introduction of new by-laws.
The council previously said they did not have the resources to police such actions as seen on the beaches and in estates in recent times.
Also speaking on Tuesday, Drogheda based Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster said it was “unbelievable” that the debate over legislating scramblers and quad bikes was still ongoing.
“It appears to me that the Government has no interest in dealing with it. I brought a similar Bill and motion before the Dáil about three years ago and both Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil voted against it. We have all known that these vehicles are an absolute scourge on communities and cause havoc in them,” she said.
Deputy Munster stated: “Gardaí have said time and again that they cannot adequately deal with the problem, and that they need stronger legislation to back them up. Under the current law, these bikes can only be driven, legally, on private land and can only be seized when they are used on public roads and footpaths. That leaves a legal gap when it comes from public recreational spaces and green areas within housing estates.”
In response, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee tabled a counter motion with amendments to the Sinn Féin motion and said that 51 quad-bikes were seized by Gardaí in 2019 and that an additional 35 were seized between January and September of this year.
However, she did not commit to a change in legislation and argued that any new laws relating to vehicles would be a matter for the Minister for Transport.
“Potential legislation is just one part of the solution and I and government colleagues will not hesitate to choose that option if it is required.
“An Garda Síochána tackle this behaviour from a number of fronts, with targeted enforcement in areas with high activity, working with petrol stations to prohibit the sale of fuel to persons who are using these vehicles and community outreach.”
In the run up to this year’s, General Election, former Fianna Fáil spokesperson for National Drug Policy and TD for Dublin Mid-West, John Curran said Fianna Fáil would implement legislation to allow Gardaí to compulsorily seize scrambler bikes and quads on suspicion of anti-social behaviour.
The party had previously introduced a bill on the matter in 2019. Mr Curran lost his seat in the election.
Scramblers and quad bikes are meant for off-road use and do not have a licence plate or tax disc. Those who ride them do not require a driver’s licence or insurance, unless they are driving them on a public road.
Last month, after a busy weekend of activity on the Annaverna mountain, Cllr Antoin Watters says he feared there is a problem with the enforcement of bylaws banning the use of scrambler bikes and quad bikes on mountain commonage in north Louth.
In 2001, Louth County Council enacted mountain commonage bylaws aimed at addressing the misuse and over use of Off Road Vehicles on the Cooley Commonage lands, an area where the public has access by right. The bylaws would be enforced by An Garda Siochana.