Motorists will be able to continue to escape penalty points for speeding and drink-driving when they cross the Irish border after it emerged that a pioneering plan for a cross-border system of sanctions had run into the ground.
The project – which has stalled due to its legal complexity – would have seen drivers' penalty points recognised on both sides of the border in a move that would have been the first of its kind in Europe.
The plan was announced in March last year by the then Environment Minister Alex Attwood and the Republic's Transport Minister Leo Varadkar. They aimed to have legislation in place by the end of this year, and claimed it would be a template for other members of the European Union.
Mutual changes would have closed a loophole which allows Northern Ireland motorists to escape sanctions for a range of offences in the Republic and vice versa.
Speeding, drink-driving, driving under the influence of drugs, not wearing a seatbelt or using a mobile phone while driving were all included in the proposed scheme.
A spokeswoman for the Department of the Environment confirmed at the weekend that the project had stalled.
"The mutual recognition of penalty points is a challenging project for which there is no agreed framework," she said.
"Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has met with Leo Varadkar on a number of occasions.
"At this meeting ministers agreed to pause the project to allow further investigations of complex policy issues.
"Mr Durkan firmly believes that for the policy to be workable and effective, but these further investigations are essential."
Sources within the Irish Government also confirmed to the Irish Mail on Sunday that the project had effectively ground to a halt, although a spokesman for Mr Varadkar told the paper the project was still going ahead.
The spokesman said: "Plans are still under way to proceed with the mutual recognition of penalty points.
"The Republic and Northern Ireland are the first two jurisdictions in the EU to undertake this proposal and it remains a key priority for governments on both sides of the border."
STORY SO FAR
In March 2013 Environment Minister Alex Attwood launched a public consultation on plans for the mutual recognition of penalty points on both sides of the Irish border. It had been intended that the new legislation, the first of its kind in Europe, would be in place by the end of 2014. A spokeswoman for the DoE confirmed that the project had been put on hold due to its complexity.