A 17-year-old from Co Clare who wants to study to become a paramedic fears he will be ineligible for the course this year, as a result of the driving test backlog.
Sean McCarthy, from Ennis, registered for his theory test last September. However, public health restrictions due to Covid-19 have created a waiting list, resulting in him being unable to sit the test.
To qualify to study paramedic science at University of Limerick, students must have at least a provisional C1 driving licence, which permits users to drive vehicles of up to 7,500kg.
“I booked the theory test in September, and that was going to happen in November, but it got pushed back a bit to early January, and now it’s been pushed out until May 14,” Sean said.
“First I’ve to pass that. Let’s say I do pass that, I’ve to wait another six months which is November before I can get my B [regular licence] done. And then I’d have to go for my theory for the C1 licence. I’ll have missed the UL date.”
Sean said he has always wanted to be a paramedic and is frustrated he likely won’t be able to pursue the career this year.
“It’s not great. I’ll probably have to stay home for another year. I just wanted to go to college and get it done. You’re just thinking about the past three or four months — will I get it or not? It’s a bit of a disaster,” he added.
A spokesman for the University of Limerick (UL) said prospective students must hold a provisional or full C1 licence “prior to an offer of a place on the programme” as students are required to drive ambulances.
“Year two of the programme sees students engage in three compulsory emergency ambulance placements during semester 1, semester 2 and the summer months in the UK and therefore students must produce a full C1 licence by the end of year one,” the spokesman said.
Fianna Fáil TD Cathal Crowe called on the Road Safety Authority (RSA) to make an allowance for Sean to sit his test.
“On top of the worry of meeting the academic benchmark in a year that’s been full of upheaval, they are now fretting about March and April and whether they’ll get their licence. The truth is, they won’t unless the rules are changed,” Mr Crowe said.
“This is a key frontline service and I’m urging them [the RSA] to immediately devise some mechanism to test these students.”
A spokesman for the RSA said the current restrictions were set out by Government.
“In general, by law, we can only test essential workers and there is a defined list set out by Government as to who constitutes an essential worker, ie those delivering essential services,” the spokesman said.
“It would be our interpretation that a full-time student studying for a leaving certificate does not fall into this category and for that reason we cannot test him or her. As I say these are the restrictions laid down by Government, not the RSA.”
Speaking at the Oireachtas Transport committee on Thursday, Unite trade union, which represents driving instructors, said there were 98,414 learner drivers waiting for a test, and 54,000 people waiting for a theory test.
The RSA said there will be an 40 additional testers in June to help clear the backlog. The authority said it hopes to receive clearance for a further 40 during the summer.