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DUP and SDLP in row over driving tests

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DUP MLA Michelle McIlveen

DUP MLA Michelle McIlveen

DUP MLA Michelle McIlveen

THE DUP has accused the Infrastructure Minister of falling asleep at the wheel over a resumption date for driving tests.

Strangford MLA Michelle McIlveen, the chair of Stormont's infrastructure committee, called on Nichola Mallon to name a date as soon as possible.

"Young people are losing out on job opportunities because they can't get a driving test," she said.

"It's time for minister Mallon to take a grip of the steering wheel, put the foot down and drive forward the reopening of driving tests for everyone.

"Driving instructors are back at work, but their pupils can't book a test.

"The minister says she is working on a plan to get driving tests operational, but there has been a lack of urgency.

"For over four months young people haven't been able to get their driving licenses."

However, the SDLP said the minister's primary concern was for the public's safety and accused Miss McIlveen of irresponsibility.

"It's pretty shocking that the chair of the committee, who is well aware that a risk assessment needs to be completed before any return to driving test services, is calling for services to resume," a spokesman said.

"Is the chair really saying there's no need for risk assessments?

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Nichola Mallon

Nichola Mallon

Nichola Mallon

"It's crystal clear that the minister's priority is to keep staff and customers safe from Covid-19.

"She has already said that she hopes to be in a position to make an announcement this week.

"Driving tests have only just started in England and the South this week - and Wales has said it hopes to reinstate tests on August 17. There's been no date yet provided for Scotland. This isn't a straightforward issue and it's just irresponsible for the DUP to pretend that it is."

All driving tests were suspended when Northern Ireland went into coronavirus lockdown in March.

It emerged yesterday that motorcycle test, which were supposed restart on July 6, have been delayed.

Driving theory test certificates for learners have also been extended for eight months because practical examinations have stalled.

The news came as it emerged that the Assembly was set to shut up shop for the rest of the summer, despite the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

After this Tuesday no further Assembly meetings are envisaged until September, even though there is a huge legislative backlog that could cause a crash later this year.

Most if not all of the Assembly's scrutiny committees, including the key finance and economy groups, do not plan to meet again before autumn.

However, MLAs could be recalled in the event of an emergency, such as a second spike of the virus, and ministers are to remain in office, although there are reports that the Executive will take its usual summer break.

Temporary Assembly Speaker Jim Wells said: "We are continuing until the end of July and our recess is far shorter than that of Westminster.

"Many MLAs have cancelled their summer holidays and the constituency work is continuing.

"We may yet be called back if the coronavirus situation deteriorates.

"I am on the finance committee and we don't plan to come back until September, but that could change suddenly."

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