Environment Minister Mark H. Durkan says his predecessor Alex Attwood acquiesced in a London Transport Ministry recommendation that Northern Ireland driving licences continue to be printed without changes to existing designs after it was announced in 2012 that Union Flags would be added to licences in Great Britain.
The Londonderry MLA, who took over at the Department of the Environment (DoE) in 2013, said no further liaison between the DoE and the Department for Transport (DfT) occured until last Christmas.
Mr Durkan explained his position in response to a query from DUP Mid Ulster MLA Ian McCrea, who asked: “Why he has excluded drivers from Northern Ireland from receiving the new UK design of driving licences containing the Union Flag when renewing their licence?”
The Environment Minister claimed he hadn’t.
“In 2012, when the UK Government announced its intention to include the Union flag on Great Britain driving licences, DfT Minister Mike Penning wrote to my predecessor to advise him of this intention,” he explained.
Mr Durkan added: “Minister Penning indicated his intention that DVLA would continue to print Northern Ireland driving licences without change to the existing design. He asked for a view on this.”
It was at this point that DoE officials asked the DVLA if it would be possible to provide individuals with an option to choose whether to include or exclude the flag.
DVLA, however, indicated that this would not be possible due to costs.
“Having considered the issue, a response was made to DfT, in December 2012, confirming agreement with DfT’s intention to continue to print NI driving licences without any change to the existing design.
“Given that no change was brought forward, no further consultation occurred. My Department heard no more of the UK Government’s plans for GB driving licences until a letter from DfT Minister John Hayes to me dated December 23, 2014, indicating that the plans for GB licences would be announced over the Christmas period, and that Northern Ireland driving licences would continue to be issued without the Union flag,” said the Minister.
It’s not the first time the DVLA office in Swansea’s capabilities or otherwise have caused controversy.
It emerged in 2013 that driving licences couldn’t be printed in Irish because the machine in Swansea that did it, couldn’t print fadas.
The Environment Minister at the time Alex Attwood explained that the ‘fada,’ a mark that lengthens vowel sounds, couldn’t be printed in Wales.
Mr Attwood explained: “To take advantage of very significant cost benefits, Northern Ireland driving licences are printed and issued by the DVLA in Swansea. DVLA do not have the capacity to print fadas on driving licences. Therefore while the Irish name may be displayed, associated fadas cannot be printed on Northern Ireland driving licences. DVA are currently examining options for the provision of a new Driver Licensing IT system and printing options for licences may be considered as part of that project.”