Minister of Transport and taxi market deregulation

 

Madam, - By choosing Christmas week to announce the paltry payment of €600,000 to around 49 taxi drivers badly affected by the Government's deregulation of the taxi industry in 2000, the Minister for Transport has again shown he is a consummate master at playing to the media.

Since deregulation, hundreds of taxi drivers have suffered enormously from the Government's ill-informed and badly handled liberalisation of entry into the taxi business. Many have had either to sell their family homes in Dublin and move to cheaper properties in one of the satellite towns, or else re-finance their mortgage repayments to continue to pay for an asset that is now, in real terms, practically worthless.

Certainly, all now have to work far longer hours to earn anywhere near the level of income they enjoyed before deregulation. This in itself raises public safety issues, with many drivers having to work 80 to 90 hours a week in order to meet their financial commitments, far in excess of the recommended 48-hour working week recommended by the European Union.

It is only a matter of time before a serious or fatal accident occurs as a result of driver fatigue. The only surprise is that it has not happened yet. The High Court decision that pre-empted deregulation said it was unconstitutional for the Government to restrict entry to the taxi industry based solely on numbers.

In effect, this meant that the moratorium placed on entry between 1979 and 2000 was also unconstitutional. Thus drivers who purchased taxi licences on the "grey" market at vastly inflated prices during this period (many paid over €100,000) were forced to do so on face of an unconstitutional decision taken by successive governments to restrict the number of taxi licences issued.

Proper compensation for their loss should now be paid to drivers and their families who suffered so badly from this unconstitutional moratorium, and not the paltry and derisory amounts now being offered from Mr Brennan's so-called "hardship panel",where drivers have to prove they have suffered considerable financial hardship before any payment will even be considered.

Drivers who have ensured that payments on their taxi plates continue to be paid, or who have shown fiscal responsibility by working considerably longer hours to sustain their incomes are thus discriminated against, and unlikely to qualify for any payment under Mr Brennan's scheme.

He has consistently refused to reconsider paying realistic compensation or increasing payments to drivers, even in the face of a request from the European Commission that he should address the issue.

It is now over 3 years since deregulation decimated the taxi industry here in Ireland, and all we have had from Minister Brennan is promises and pie-in-the-sky theories on how he intends to improve the situation.

Granted, a new Taxi Advisory Board has now been appointed, but without the new Taxi Regulator in place this board is simply a toothless tiger, without the power to enforce many of the new proposals that have been put forward in the Taxi Regulation Bill passed by the Government last year.

Last summer, a series of meetings took place between three of the main representative bodies in the taxi industry, SIPTU, the National Taxi Driver's Union, and the Irish Taxi Driver's Federation to formulate a common policy and combined industrial action to further our legitimate claims and concerns. This resulted in a joint day of action during the summer when we all congregated in the Phoenix Park, and drove in convoy to Dáil Éireann.

The taxi drivers of Ireland hereby serve notice on Mr Brennan and the Government that until our legitimate grievances are dealt with realistically and in a more sympathetic fashion, it is our intention to highlight our case at every possible opportunity to visiting European Ministers and officials during Ireland's EU presidency.

We have waited for natural justice long enough, and will wait no longer. - Yours, etc.,

KEN JOHNSTONE,

(Member of SIPTU Taxi Driver's Branch National Committee),

Cromwellsfort Road,

Walkinstown,

Dublin 12.