Drivers sue State over ‘disastrous’ liberalisation of taxi licensing regime
Test cases brought to High Court over claims move breached constitutional rights
Financial disaster: drivers bought licences from other licence holders for up to £100,000 before liberalisation. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
Many taxi drivers suffered a “financially disastrous overnight catastrophe” as a result of the unlawful, unreasonable and unfair liberalisation of the taxi licensing regime in 2000 and are entitled to damages, the High Court has been told.
Drivers who bought licences from other licence holders for up to £100,000 had their constitutional rights to property, equal treatment and to earn a livelihood breached when their value was wiped out overnight in 2000, Michael Collins SC said.
Some drivers bought licences as late as August 2000; by November, licences could be acquired for about £5,000.
Counsel was opening actions by three taxi drivers – Alphonsus Muldoon, Vincent Malone and Thomas Kelly – which are regarded as test cases for actions by some 1,200 other drivers arising from liberalisation of the licensing regime.
The case of Dublin-based Mr Muldoon, the first being opened, is against the Minister for Environment and Local Government, the State and Dublin City Council.
Mr Muldoon (66) bought a licence from another driver for £80,000 in 1998, plus a £3,000 licence fee. He claims the new regulations deprived him of an anticipated substantial asset he aimed to use for pension purposes.
He paid for it with his £40,000 life savings and by remortgaging his home for the other £40,000. While he was later paid €13,000 compensation under the Taxi Hardship Scheme, that did not compensate him for the loss, he claims.
As a result of the new licensing regime, he was unable to meet mortgage repayments over certain periods, his earning capacity and health were affected and he has been unable to provide for a pension.
The court heard no new licences were issued in Dublin over a 10-year period from 1978 beyond the approved number of 1,800. During the 1990s, approval was given for some extra licences. Mr Muldoon claims, when he sought to enter the trade in 1994, he was told he would have to buy a licence from an existing licence holder.
The actions, being heard by Mr Justice Michael Peart, are expected to run for several weeks. The judge will decide the issue of liability first. The defendants deny any liability.