Tight security for minister as 600 buy new cab licences
Cheers and chants as taxi drivers vote to stay off the streets for another week at least
DESPITE widespread intimidation, more than 600 people have paid £3 million for new taxi licences in Dublin as it emerged that gardaí have been maintaining close surveillance on the homes of PD junior minister Bobby Molloy and his family.
Last night, the National Taxi Drivers Union and the Irish Taxi Drivers Federation voted to stay off the streets of Dublin, with 70 per cent in favour of continuing strike action. Siptu drivers also voted to stay out.
Cheers and chants greeted the announcement of the ballot result at St Vincent's GAA club. With further legal submissions due in the High Court and meetings with the Government planned for Tuesday, it now appears unlikely there will be a return to work before next weekend at the earliest.
Security surrounding Minister of State Bobby Molloy was stepped up by gardaí following a number of incidents of intimidation and violence since the dispute over deregulation of the trade began.
Gardaí have also been patrolling outside the home of his son in Co Kildare, where the minister stays while on Government business in Dublin.
Meanwhile, support among the public for Dublin taxi drivers has plunged, with only 14 per cent of respondents to a
Sunday Independent telephone poll backing the striking drivers and 86 per cent against.
Support for rural taxi drivers has also dwindled among the general public, with just 20 per cent backing the striking cab drivers and 80 per cent against.
However, the controversial stand by junior minister Willie O'Dea in opposing his own Government's policy on taxi deregulation won support, with most people believing he was entitled to voice his concerns. Just over 75 per cent believe he should not resign as a result of his outspoken support for taxi drivers.
The High Court application by the National Taxi Drivers Union (NDTU) for leave to challenge the deregulation of the industry will continue next Tuesday.
On Friday, John Rogers SC, for the taxi drivers, argued that deregulation would seriously jeopardise his clients' right to earn a livelihood as it effectively reduced the value of taxi licences to nil.
However, it emerged yesterday that more than 600 people, many of them former cosies, have paid £5,000 each for new licences and have already been given conditional offers of licences and a designated taxi number.
About 100 of these have already installed new meters in their cars and have had them checked, passed and sealed.
While taximen were voting in Dublin on whether to continue their strike, the Carriage Office was open for business yesterday to cope with the demand from applicants.
Less than 50 people have applied for the cheaper £100 licences available for wheelchair-accessible taxis. Minister Bobby Molloy has stated that he wants all taxis wheelchair-accessible in the future and that the process will begin before the end of 2003.
By JEROME REILLY