By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — By a narrow margin, taxi drivers suspended their two-week strike against a government decision to deregulate their trade and returned to work last Friday.
About 2,700 drivers in Dublin and 600 around the country began the stoppage after a Nov. 21 decision by Minister of State at the Environment Bobby Molloy to issue new licenses costing £5,000 on a free-for-all basis.
The strike caused widespread disruption with blockades on the Dail, City Hall, motorways and airports.
The taxi industry had previously been tightly controlled and licenses had been traded on a "gray market" at up to £80,000 each.
The drivers are angry that deregulation devalued their licenses. They rejected a Government offer of a tax writeoff on what they paid. They are seeking an increase in fares and renewed control of the number of licenses being issued.
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The government had previously planned to issue new licenses on a one-to-one basis to existing taximen but the plan was ruled illegal by the High Court.
As the dispute has continued, more than 1,200 people have paid the 5,000 for new licenses in Dublin under the deregulated system.
Dublin’s director of traffic, Owen Keegan, said they had issued conditional offers to people who now had to have their car checked out and get a roof sign and meter before their got a full license. But the end of last week about 30 full new licenses had been issued.
Keegan said about half those applying for the licenses were hackney drivers who up until now could not pick up passengers if hailed on the road or at taxi stands. The other half are mostly "cozies" or part-time drivers on someone else’s license.
The existing drivers are represented by three groups in Dublin and all voted to go back to work.
The National Taxi Driver’s Union and the Irish Taxi Driver’s Federation voted by about 65-35 to suspend the action.
The vote took place shortly after the High Court granted the drivers permission for a judicial review of the deregulation move and there was some confusion about the value of the court decision for their campaign.
The review will be heard later this month but it does not affect the issuing of new licenses in the meantime.
When drivers who are members of the SIPTU union voted the next day the suspension decision only squeezed through by 52-48.