Dunlop offer to lobby for taxis, hackneys

 

The lobbyist Mr Frank Dunlop "guaranteed" to get taxi plates for hackney drivers in the mid-1990s in return for fees of over €80,000, The Irish Times has been told.

Mr Dunlop told the National Hackney Drivers' Association he would lobby politicians successfully to get the drivers roof-signs for their cars, the use of bus lanes and a number of taxi licences.

However, after the hackney drivers told Mr Dunlop they couldn't afford his services, he switched sides and worked on behalf of taxi drivers. For over a year, he lobbied politicians on behalf of the two main taxi organisations which were fighting moves to deregulate the market. They paid him up to £25,000 (€31,740) for his work, much of it raised from members.

The work carried out by Mr Dunlop consisted of straightforward lobbying and no money was paid to county councillors, both taxi organisations insisted yesterday.

Mr Chris Humphreys of the National Hackney Drivers' Association said he contacted Mr Dunlop in 1995, at a time when his members were not allowed to use a radio or put signs on their cars.

The lobbyist sought a fee of £2,000 (€2,540) a month for 12 months, plus a "success fee" of £40,000 (€50,790) at the end of this period. "We were only asking for roof-signs and the use of the bus lanes, so he offered us more than we were looking for," said Mr Humphreys.

Two weeks after the hackney drivers told him they couldn't afford him, Mr Dunlop turned up at a meeting of Dublin county council on behalf of the Dublin Area Taxi Association, a collaborative group set up by the National Taxi Drivers' Union and the Irish Taxi Federation.

"I was gutted when I saw him in the chamber," recalls Mr Humphreys. "Here was this man who was promising us everything, and now he was against us."

According to Mr John Ussher of the ITF, Mr Dunlop was only one of a number of consultants they employed during the 1990s. "We were trying to stop the issuing of taxi licences and he gave us advice and organised meetings for us with the councillors. I was happy with what he did for us; I couldn't fault his work," he said .

The relationship, which lasted 12 to 18 months, ended when the federation decided on a change of direction, with more emphasis on public relations than lobbying of politicians.

Mr Ussher said there were "no irregularities" about the relationship. "Perhaps people knew we didn't have the type of money you're talking about at the tribunal. Even to pay Frank was an effort." Mr Tommy Gorman of the NTDU said the taxi drivers hired Mr Dunlop in 1997. He lobbied to help keep to a minimum the number of new plates issued and the size of a proposed increase in renewal fees.

"I always found him very frank and honest. We knew nothing then about the stuff that has come out since but in any case, there was nothing like that with us," he said.

The union paid for his fees from the proceeds of a lottery but when this declined the relationship ended. At this point taxi-drivers put their hopes in the taxi forum set up by the Taoiseach, Mr Gorman said.

Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, the taxi industry enjoyed close relations with a number of politicians who represented its point of view at local and national level. There is no evidence, however, that any politician asked for or received any payment in return for this support.

The number of taxi plates in Dublin grew from 2,000 in 1978 to just 2,700 in the year 2000, in spite of massive customer demand and complaints about the quality of service. By the mid-1990s, plates were trading for as much as £80,000 (€101,580).

Since deregulation, which made new plates available for £5,000 (€6,349), the number of plates has soared. Currently, there are almost 9,000 plates issued, although former hackney drivers have taken up many of these.