Margaret Rossiter: ‘Driving licences - ours not to reason why?’

A friend recently told me of her experience in renewing her driving licence. She said that the paper trail was a bureaucratic obstacle-race in itself, but that getting to the starting point took her on a geographic tour of Clonmel.

A friend recently told me of her experience in renewing her driving licence. She said that the paper trail was a bureaucratic obstacle-race in itself, but that getting to the starting point took her on a geographic tour of Clonmel.

“I went from Billy to Jack,” she said, “and I ended up in a place I never knew existed.”

She concluded that, while the declared function of bureaucracy is that of serving the public, its actual function is the perpetuation of the bureaucratic institution: “keeping themselves in jobs,” she said.

I told her that those were my sentiments exactly. She then invited me to put my money where my mouth was, and suggested that I should “see how long it takes you to locate Powerstown House,” the recently established office for the issuing of driving licences.

But, before embarking on that trail, a word about my friend.

She is, like myself, of the “grey generation,” and is now retired. She has worked very hard during her life, “since I left school,” diligently paid her taxes and her levies, and she continues to pay all the new charges that have come her way, health insurance, household charge, garbage collection, and she will pay the oncoming water charges. She subscribes generously to charities, votes in every election and in all the frequent referenda.

“It sounds like bragging,” she said, “but I think that we of the grey generation are very responsible citizens.” Here again, I reassure her of my sentiments.

I live in the eastern suburbs of Clonmel and do not drive a car and so decided to incorporate my search for Powerstown House into an afternoon walk. First, I took a de-tour into Emmet Street and to the County Council building, the location of the office which heretofore issued driving licences. A notice in the window told me that as from 25th October, the issue of licences had been transferred to the National Drivers Licence Service, which was now located in Powerstown House and for further information I could go to www.ndls.ie

Now, if there is anything that irritates my otherwise good-humoured friend it is a recommendation to go to www sites. She doesn’t have a computer, nor does she intend to get one.

‘TALK TO ME IN A LANGUAGE I UNDERSTAND’

In what she identifies as the limited years left to her, she has too many other things to do, books to read, friends to have coffee with. Besides, she says, she will not be bullied by bureaucracy. “If they want to talk to me,” she says “talk to me in a language I understand.”

On a November afternoon (on shank’s mare) I set out to find the new offices, via Powerstown Road, Tivoli Road and Glenaleamy, I crossed the heavily trafficked inner relief road (the Frank Drohan Road) and skirted Powerstown Park. This was the site of the original Powerstown House, built in the early 19th century for the Morton Estate (later Morton-Jackson). That house has long since been demolished.

I passed by Mylerstown townsland and into Gortnafleur. There, on the western side of the road, near the junction of St. Patrick’s Road and the main Waterford Road, I found one of those large industrial/business estates, a number of which have been developed during Clonmel’s Celtic Tiger era. Mission accomplished, I told myself.

But it wasn’t. I could not find any sign-posting, and so walked up and down cul-de-sacs, reading the names over shops, peering into the windows of vacant premises, re-tracing my footsteps and finding myself in yet another cul de sac.

And then I saw a young man. I waved in his direction and walked towards him. From a distance of about twenty feet he shouted back to me: “You’re looking for the Licence Office?” And he pointed at a very large building on the periphery of the development.

I had already noticed this building, because it was larger and taller than the other premises, but since it had a very large ‘FOR SALE’ sign on an external wall, I presumed it was unoccupied. The young man told me that he had driven from Carrick-on-Suir, and had gone “around in circles” before locating the office. Inside, he said, there were a number of people, all seeking licences, some elderly, and the only seating facilities consisted of three chairs.

At the entrance to the building, I found a signpost telling me that this indeed was Powerstown House, but it was less than shoulder-high and was sheltered by shrubs. There was no indication that it housed the National Drivers Services. Darkness was falling as I left the complex, when two very frustrated drivers who had “gone all over the place,” asked me for directions.

The relocation of a long established public office from the Council Offices in Emmet Street, raises some interesting questions. The importance of Clonmel’s town centre, and its conservation, forms an integral part of the Town Plan. Yet, while this centre is under constant threat, yet another source of footfall has now been removed.

And, as readers of this column will know, when the two Ridings of Tipperary are united next year, at least half the services will be transferred from Clonmel to Nenagh. This presumes that at least half the existing space in the County Council offices and in the Town Hall will be vacant. The deduction, at least for ordinary members of the public, is that there will be many empty offices. Why was this fact not anticipated before moving another service out of town?

Will the public be enlightened by bureaucracy? It is unlikely. It never explains and never apologises. As my friend, lapsing into poetry, says: “Ours not to reason why.” Ours, but to put up, and shut up, and pay up. Stupid!