The company responsible for massive delays in the National Car Test is to be penalised for failing to deliver on its contract.
Applus+ has apologised for the backlog which has left 375,000 cars on the road without a valid certificate of roadworthiness.
Minister of State at the Department of Transport Jack Chambers said the delays were “absolutely unacceptable”.
“The Road Safety Authority are in a process with Applus+ to apply penalties to that company who aren’t delivering the public service that they’re contracted to do,” he said.
“They say by the end of May they will be back to the waiting time that is in the service level agreement but it is completely unacceptable.”
The Irish Independent reported recently that people trying to book appointments for their test were having to wait six months for a slot – often long after their certificate expired.
Mr Chambers accepted the delays created a risk of cars being used that were not roadworthy but he said motorists had a responsibility to ensure their car was safe to drive.
“There is an obligation on every driver, notwithstanding the NCT, that their vehicle is roadworthy,” he said. “The NCT is a snapshot in time.”
He added that insurers body, Insurance Ireland, recognised the problems and its members would work with customers for whom the lack of a certificate was causing difficulties.
He said the gardaí too had given assurances that they would use their discretion with motorists with no valid NCT, so long as they had evidence of having booked the test.
“I would say to people who need the test soon to go on the priority waiting list. The majority are prioritised with 28 days, so as well as booking an appointment, they should go the list.”
Delays in getting appointments for the driving test are also causing problems, despite an increase in the number of driver testers from 100 to 130 last year.
Mr Chambers said the Road Safety Authority was making a case for a further increase and he was waiting to receive final details of that.
Transport Minister Eamon Ryan said there was a general shortage of workers which was not helping the situation.
Dublin Bus and Irish Rail are currently on a recruitment drive and Mr Ryan said his department and the National Transport Authority was currently seeking 1,500 work permits to bring workers from abroad to fill driver positions in the many new bus services that were to be rolled out around the country.
Meanwhile Fianna Fáil TD James O’Connor has told the Oireachtas Transport Committee this afternoon that he feels a “great deal” of “disappointment and anger” over NCT delays.
He said NCT employees got in touch with him in recent weeks and said the Christmas party was swapped out for "a tenner" towards a Christmas lunch.
“You wouldn’t go into a filling station and buy a wrap and a bottle of Coke for that,” he told NCT chiefs as they appeared before the committee.
“Last year was a very tough year financially and unfortunately we had to make the decision that we could not sponsor a significant Christmas party, we did however sponsor a Christmas lunch for staff,” said Applus country manager Mark Synnott.
“I think we have to view a Christmas party as a discretionary spend and last year, as I said, was very, very tough.”
Between170,000 to 200,000 vehicles are overdue their NCTs every year, the committee was told.
However, there are currently 375,000 vehicles on the road with no valid NCT certs.
The customer charter operated by the NCT states that motorists who are not offered a test within 28 days of seeking one are entitled to a free test.
The Road Safety Authority said “no free tests” have been given out to customers. A review is currently underway and if there are delays, refunds will be issued, the committee was told.
Mr Synnott said as a result of the Bank Holiday next week, around 500 vehicles will be given free tests.