The taxi trade is suffering a growing crisis of confidence as a result of falling standards, assaults and other incidents involving passengers, and the high number of criminals who have got licenses under industry deregulation. It is believed that as many as one in five of those who hold licenses have had criminal convictions.
Transport Minister Seamus Brennan has promised a new regulator for the trade who would have sufficient powers to clean up the industry.
Up to two years ago — before junior minister Bobby Molloy deregulated the tightly controlled 2,700-strong taxi trade in Dublin overnight — parents frequently gave their children fare money to ensure they got home safely.
After several assaults recently, women traveling alone have expressed concern about using taxis, although it was generally believed that several women traveling together were safe.
Last week’s allegations of the rape of three women by a taxi driver who picked them up as a fare on the south side of the city has caused widespread shock. Police did not identify the driver.
Later Thursday night, a killer armed with a shotgun opened fire on Niall Mulvihill, 57, at the wheel of his taxi. He died later in hospital after crashing when trying to drive himself to the casualty unit.
Mulvihill had been well known to gardai. He is believed to have had strong links with the notorious Dublin criminal Martin “The General” Cahill, and had been facing a tax demand from the Criminal Assets Bureau.
Vinnie Kearns, vice president of the National Taxi Drivers Union, described the incidents as “horrific” and called for a “full-scale” inquiry into the trade post-deregulation.
“We are aware of many other instances, and the majority of drivers absolutely abhor these sort of allegations,” he said. “We now have an exodus from the business of genuine drivers who no longer wish to work in an industry that is tarnished.”
Kearns said there should be strict entry criteria for drivers, a regulator with statutory powers and stringent vetting procedures.
“The gardai have refused licenses to quite a number of the new entrants and they have appealed these decisions to courts and the courts have overruled the gardai in many circumstances,” according to Kearns.
Kearns said a man, convicted in Britain of abducting a 15-year-old, was given a taxi license in Dublin. “I think that is an absolute disgrace,” he said.
Last year, the man convicted of sexually assaulting the 14-year-old girl at the center of the notorious X-Case abortion ruling in the early 1990s was jailed for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl and falsely imprisoning her in his taxi in 1999.
Following his release from prison after serving his four-year sentence for the X-Case assault, he had been granted a license in 1998.
Gerry Brennan, branch officer with SIPTU’s taxi branch, said the industry is in a “state of chaos.” He said there are more than 9,000 taxis in Dublin and it is impossible for the Gardai’s Carriage Office to police without extra resources.