Fine Gael inserted text written by Uber into its 2016 general election manifesto as then taoiseach Enda Kenny faced pressure to break down the taxi regulator’s refusal to allow its cab-hailing service in Ireland, the US company claimed in leaked files.
Uber said its text was used in the party’s February 2016 manifesto as the result of a lobbying campaign by John Moran, the former Department of Finance secretary general, who claimed special access to then minister for finance Michael Noonan in his dealings with the cab-hailing business.
The contemporaneous files show how Mr Moran claimed he could drop company documents into Mr Noonan’s home and told an Uber executive about Limerick pubs the minister visited when the executive suggested private talks with him.
“I would plan then to perhaps drop a separate note into Noonan’s house on Sunday, where I can set out some more background more frankly (in terms of what is good not just for the broader sharing economy but Limerick) but without it forming part of the official dept records,” Mr Moran told Uber in January 2016.
Mr Noonan told The Irish Times that Mr Moran may have suggested this but “never did it”.
Asked about his lobbying work for Uber, Mr Moran said: “I am very happy to have been asked by Uber to play my part to help them try and modernise Ireland’s taxi industry.”
Uber’s efforts to influence the highest levels of the government and civil service between 2014 and 2017 are revealed in cache of more than 124,000 company records about its lobbying efforts around the world to establish global dominance for its smartphone app.
“The current largest party – Fine Gael – published their election manifesto and included text we supplied them on the sharing economy,” said a private note circulated to Uber executives as Mr Kenny campaigned for a second term six years ago.
Some in the company saw Mr Kenny as a political leader who mattered, and a potentially influential voice in support of Uber with centre-right EU counterparts. Mr Kenny did not respond to queries from The Irish Times.
Fine Gael published the manifesto weeks after senior transport officials told Uber its plans for a pilot scheme in Limerick were facing rejection by regulators, dealing a blow to a company effort to establish an Irish foothold for a service that was growing rapidly around the world.
In response to questions, Fine Gael said “ride-sharing apps can play a useful role in public transport provision” and “this was reflected in the 2016 manifesto”.
Uber defended its lobbying, saying in reply to questions that its objective between 2014 and 2017 was “to find ways to modernise or create new regulations that would be adapted to modern life”.
The files were leaked to The Guardian and provided to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in Washington, a network of media outlets around the globe that includes The Irish Times, the Washington Post, Le Monde and the BBC.
Other disclosures show how Uber’s “dark lobbying” tactics broke the law in other jurisdictions and how French president Emmanuel Macron became an ally of Uber as a minister in Paris.
Facing a “block” in Ireland when the National Transport Authority pushed back against its business model, Uber engaged Mr Moran as a lobbyist in 2015 in an attempt to sway Fine Gael ministers and top officials to back the regulatory changes – or legal waivers – that it needed to introduce its service in Ireland.
That effort proved unsuccessful. One month after Uber presented the Limerick pilot plan, Department of Transport officials told the company it was unlikely to be accepted. In June 2017 the National Transport Authority, an independent regulator, definitively ruled it out.
Mr Moran, who left the Department of Finance in 2014 and went on to become the first chairman designate of the Land Development Agency, became involved with Uber as it advanced plans to establish a Limerick service centre that employed some 150 people at first.
At the time Mr Kenny welcomed the investment as a “testament to the skills and talent of the Irish workforce”. But Uber files show that some executives believed the move opened an opportunity to exercise “political leverage” in Dublin.
“We’d like to get the regs message across to Enda Kenny, reiterate things w [with] Paschal Donohoe and anyone else you think is worth our time,” said a memo three months before Limerick jobs were announced.
Friction with NTA director of taxi regulation Hugh Creegan led Uber to seek ways of circumventing him by lobbying government. After Mr Creegan declined a 2014 meeting with Mark MacGann, a senior Irish Uber executive, Mr MacGann wrote: “Can you give me the names, titles and contact details of the relevant people in government, plus IDA, so that I can get them to lean on this guy; this is not how Ireland operates.”
Explainer: What is Uber and how does its business model work?
Car-hailing company Uber was set up in San Francisco in 2009 and now operates in more than 10,000 cities and 70 countries around the world. It is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and is valued at more than $44 billion (€41 billion). The company took in almost $26 billion in gross bookings last year. The business operates a model where it signs up drivers to an online platform, allowing them to use their own cars to pick up passengers by accepting bookings through an app. The model works on the basis that drivers are not required to be licensed as a taxi or limo driver.
Uber has been described as a “disruptive technology” as it threatens the traditional model of taxi and limousine hire. It has encountered strong opposition from taxi drivers across Europe who see the model as encroaching on their long-standing business. Irish law poses major restrictions for Uber and the business model, requiring anyone carrying passengers for profit to have a taxi licence. There is a limited Uber service in Dublin but only for licensed taxi drivers.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said in June that he may look at easing Irish taxi regulations for Uber and another ride-sharing service Lyft to help solve the country’s taxi shortage.