Horse-drawn carriages on the streets of Dublin are a charming throwback to a bygone era of Hansom cabs and buggies.
The laws governing them are equally anachronistic, dating to the Dublin Carriage Act of 1853, which is still on the statute book.
There are no fines for the drivers of horse-drawn carriages who park on double yellow lines as such lines did not exist in Victorian times. Fines for various breaches of the bylaws are in shillings and pennies with the prospect of two months’ hard labour for the most serious breaches.
Modern carriage drivers say the anomalies have led to a "legal lacuna" in terms of the bylaws. Dublin City Council, which did act as the licensing authority, has stated there is no legal basis for it to enforce the bylaws.
It points out the Dublin Carriage Acts makes the Dublin Metropolitan Police and therefore its successor, the gardaí, the proper licensing authority.
A dozen carriage drivers drove in convoy on Thursday from St Stephen's Green to Government Buildings on Merrion Street with a letter for Minister for Transport Shane Ross.
For most, carriage driving is a multigenerational pursuit now under threat because of what they see as local authority inertia.
David Mulreany says just 16 carriage drivers are licensed in Dublin, yet, at any one time, 30 can be gathered outside the Guinness Storehouse seeking to pick up tourists. The licensed drivers, he points out, "have done it forever. It's all they know. It's terrible that we have to come out on days like this," he says while taking shelter from the rain.
“They [unlicensed cabs] are not being checked. We have paid our insurance every single year. We have to have tax clearance certificates before they give us these licences.
"Dublin City Council and An Garda Síochána aren't helping in any way. It's a dying trade. The Government want it dead."
The letter states that carriage drivers were operating under a licencing system regulated by the city council until September of last year, but the council has since advised them that it is not in a position to renew or issue new licences.
The drivers called on Mr Ross to introduce primary legislation for the regulation of horse-drawn carriages.
The letter read: “We are calling on you, as Minister for Transport, to repeal the Victorian legislation to enable Dublin City Council to draft new, improved and enforceable bye-laws that properly assess the driver, carriage and harnessing, providing a safe and professional service to customers with horses suitable for the work involved.”
The letter was handed into TDs Maureen O'Sullivan and Joan Colllins outside Government Buildings.
Ms O’Sullivan has raised the issue in the Dáil with Mr Ross. In his response to a parliamentary question from Ms O’Sullivan last month, Mr Ross said he has asked officials in his department to engage with the council and the gardaí about any requirement to amend or repeal legislation to ensure an appropriate regulatory framework is in place.
Dublin City Council's Cllr Deirdre Heney said she had asked city manager Owen Keegan to put pressure on Mr Ross to introduce new legislation.
“It is a small amendment that we need to protect horses in our city and carriage horses in our city. There are men and women who abide by the law, look after their animals and look after their carriages,” she said.
“We need Shane Ross to come out now and change the lacuna so that Dublin City Council can issues licences for carriages.”