Dear Minister

Share the road

Share the road

Readers will remember my travails with the Irish driving system. I wrote about having to apply for an Irish Driving License and then about the mandatory driving lessons and passing the driving test. I promised myself that when it was all over I would write to the Minister for Transportation and make recommendations about how people like me could be treated respectfully and flexibly.

I’ve finally written the letter and have extracted my recommendations below. I would be interested in whether readers agree with them. I’d also love to hear your personal experiences of driving in Ireland. It’s a unique experience in many ways – I am constantly bemused by what I observe as I navigate the boreens and village streets of this part of the world.

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There is no justification for such an inflexible approach to holders of foreign licenses. I know Ireland is committed to negotiating mutual recognition agreements with other countries over time, and that Canada may be a little more complex since licensing is handled by individual provinces, thus  requiring recognition of ten provincial licenses rather than one national one. I also understand that progress is being made, but slowly.

Since my license happens to be Canadian, I will venture now to make some recommendations on an alternative approach to how holders of Canadian licenses (and by extension others) could be treated.


  1. Retain the requirement for the Rules of the Road test – there are enough differences to make this a good idea.
  2. Waive the requirement for the mandatory lessons or reduce them considerably – four lessons would be more than adequate to cover some of the idiosyncrasies of driving in Ireland.
  3. Waive the requirements for the Canadian license holder to apply for an Irish Learner Permit.
  4. If, for whatever reason this is not possible or practical, waive the regulation whereby the Learner Permit then takes precedence over the Canadian License. In practice, this allows the Canadian license holder to continue to drive on their Canadian license for a year (as they can if they do NOT apply for a Learner Permit) while preparing for the road test.
  5. Conduct a desk review of all ten Canadian Provincial Licensing systems. They are all easily accessible online, and fully explained. I can assure you that each province in Canada has a rigorous and comprehensive learner-driver program, but don’t take my word for it – a civil servant in your Ministry can conduct this assessment in less than a week.
  6. Once you have done this, immediately declare a unilateral recognition of Canadian driving licenses, as your Ministry has already done for several other countries.

The Road Safety Authority is doing a good job of raising the standards of driving in Ireland. In doing this they are battling decades of deeply-engrained negative attitudes to careful driving and to adherence to licensing regulations, especially outside the major metropolitan areas. I applaud this progress towards real change to the culture of driving in Ireland. But please, allow flexibility in how the regulations are applied so that someone with 40 years of driving experience is not treated like a  beginning driver.


Finola Finlay

Don't get distracted by the scenery

Don’t get distracted by the scenery

I wonder if I will get a response. I will let you know.

Mooooove over!

Mooooove over!

One last image…

What the...?

What the…?

Driven to Distraction

2013-09-24 10.15.34

Hello, Ladies!

Robert is switching his English car to be registered in Ireland and in order to be properly insured I should get an Irish driving licence. In Vancouver all of this (registering and insuring a car, getting a driver’s licence) is handled by the Insurance Corporation of BC (ICBC) – one stop shopping and very efficient. I was unprepared for the levels of bureaucracy involved in accomplishing the same things in Ireland. For anyone thinking of moving here, gird your loins for an obstacle course.

Breathe in!

Breathe in!

Registering Robert’s car is almost done, and here are the steps we have had to follow:

  1. To the VRT (Vehicle Registration and Taxing) office in Skibbereen. We find we are ‘importing’ the car so must first go to the Customs Office in Bantry (only open Friday mornings, make an appointment) with a long list of documents.
  2. To Bantry with all documentation. Customs officer copied everything and said to wait until we got relevant certificate in the mail, then make an appointment with the VRT to register the car.
  3. To Insurance agent in Skibbereen to apply for Irish insurance. This is where we learned that Robert’s English licence is fine, but I must get an Irish one. Robert must procure proof of no claims status from English insurer.
  4. Telephone calls to England requesting no claims document. Will be emailed to us straight away.
  5. Customs certificate arrives. Appointment made with VRT office. List of required documents exactly the same as we have already supplied to Customs even though it’s the same government department (Revenue). Back to VRT and receive car registration number. Registration certificate will arrive in mail.
  6. Back to Insurance office. No claims proof has not arrived, but charming Insurance agent manages to weasel enough information out of English insurance agent on the phone. Now insured in Ireland!
  7. Off to Garage that prints ‘Licence Plates While You Wait.’ They also sell us the double-sided tape with which the plates are attached and instruct us how to do it. Main direction for pulling off the old ones, “Don’t be frightened.”
  8. On to the internet, armed with registration number, to ‘Motor Tax Online’ to pay road tax. Although the tax is collected by the ‘local authority’ or county council, the payment system is operated by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport and it appears the tax can only be paid online or by travelling up to Cork (hour and a half). Tax discs to be attached to windshield (without which it is illegal to drive a car) will arrive in the mail.
  9. Once car registration certificate (see step 5 above) arrives in the mail, Robert can make appointment to have a mandatory NCT (National Car Test) to check the car for roadworthiness. This will take us back to the VRT office.

Whew! Got all that? That’s 5 different locations and 8 sessions: Customs, VRT X3, Insurance X2, License Place Printer, Tax Authority. Add to that the assembling of lots of paperwork (examples: original invoice for four year old car, proof of identity and residence, receipt for passage on the car ferry) and multiple phone calls to England…well, I think Robert deserves a medal for negotiating all that!

The speed limit? Tractor speed.

The speed limit? Tractor speed

Interestingly, half of the processes described here are administered within government and involve two different departments as well as county councils. The other half are privatised – insurance, license plates and the NCT are all managed outside government, thereby creating a smaller bureaucracy within government, but a much larger one from a consumer viewpoint with multiple steps, documentation requirements and agencies. The saving grace for the hapless car owner is the cheerful, helpful and friendly Irish people working in each agency. With their sympathetic smiles, their humour and their efficiency in the teeth of labyrinthine processes, they will get you through the whole painful business.

"Tis a grand road.

‘Tis a grand road

My turn next. Must get that Irish driving licence. I have been driving in Canada for 38 years, problem-free, so this can’t be a big deal, right? After all, anyone with a European licence, even from countries that drive on the right (most of them) can just trade in their licence for an Irish one.

Whoa Nelly!

Whoa Nelly!

Can you predict, dear blog reader, given the tortuous route to registering a car, how straightforward this is going to be for me? A future post will reveal all. Meanwhile, I leave you with some pictures of driving conditions in West Cork.