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Banging My Head Against A Wall



Q: What happens when you send an inquiry to the Minister for Infrastructure?

A: Nothing.


No wonder so little gets done here!


Let me back up a little. In May 2023 one of our members said she had a contact at the Department for Infrastructure. I was looking for someone with whom I could discuss the possibility of including a Cycling Proficiency Test as part of the New Driver Training Curriculum. Unfortunately that approach didn't work out. Then in October I pinged an email to both the Department for Infrastructure and the Driver and Vehicle Agency, asking for those contact details.


Two weeks later, after I had heard nothing back from either institution, I asked my MLA to get a contact name for me. Their office tried several times through their channels but also drew a blank.


In the meantime I raised this issue a couple of times at the All Party Group on Cycling meetings at Stormont. Nothing ever came of that either.


This past Monday (4 March 2024) I sent an email to newly appointed Minister for Infrastructure John O'Dowd. As of this afternoon I have not received a response - not even an automated acknowledgement that my email had been received.


Here's the text of my email:


Dear Mr O’Dowd,


The Ards and North Down Cycling Campaign Group endeavours to make our borough a place where cycling is safe. Our mission statement and goals are outlined on our website.


One of the problems we have identified in Northern Ireland is that many drivers are unaware of the particular problems cyclists face on our roads here (poor road surfaces, potholes, a lack of cycle lanes, and cars parked in the few cycle lanes that do exist, close passes etc). On the other hand, many cyclists do not realise that they could do a lot to reduce conflict between drivers and cyclists. In short, education is the key to more tolerance on our roads.


One critical step in this process is teaching new drivers about cyclists’ issues. We believe this could be achieved very effectively by making a Cycling Proficiency Test an integral part of the curriculum for new drivers here. Not only would such a course raise awareness of cyclists’ problems on our roads among drivers, it would also teach new drivers that a bicycle can be a viable alternative to a car for short journeys, thereby contributing to Northern Ireland reaching its ambitious climate change goals while providing tangible health benefits. 


I had contacted both the Department of Infrastructure and the Driver and Vehicle Agency previously to ask them for a contact name in DfI or DVA with whom I could discuss adding a cycle proficiency test to the DVA’s New Driver Training Curriculum but have not received a response from either.


As emails to the generic email addresses go unanswered, would you be able to point me in the right direction and provide me with a specific contact name and contact details at either the Department or the agency with whom we could discuss our proposal? 


Your assistance would be much appreciated. 


Kind regards,


Achim Gloger

Secretary


All those approaches disappearing into the Black Hole named DfI/DVA have one thing in common: the DfI, DVA and their employees ultimately all report into John O'Dowd. That leave me wondering:

1. Is our Minister for Infrastructure actually reading his emails?

2. If not, has he delegated anyone to respond to them?

3. If yes, is it reasonable to expect a response time of five business days?

4. Why do the DfI and the DVA bother with publicly available email addresses that nobody at those agencies actually reads and answers?

5. Why is there no accountability for poor service standards by public institutions?

6. Is there actually anyone in this province who manages the New Driver Training curriculum?


I have come to the conclusion that private sector work experience should be mandatory for anyone employed in the Northern Irish public sector... That level of service would be grounds for instant dismissal anywhere else on this planet.


Lest I forget: if anyone has a contact at either of the two agencies, I'd be grateful if you could put me in touch with them.

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Achim: one general piece of advice: rather than going direct, under your own signature, turn your query into a letter to an MLA of your choice and ask them to raise the issue with the relevant Minister. That way the query will be handled by the Minister s private office and it will definitely get to the right place and will definitely get a response. Pat


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Hi Pat, I did go via the MLA route as described at the beginning of the post, although that was at a time when there was no Minister. It appears all DfI employees in charge of dealing with emails went on permanent holiday while there was no minister.


I will try again. My comment about not even receiving an acknowledgement of my email from O'Dowd's office stands.

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