Regulator to police taxi industry vital

THE Government has serious questions to answer over its failure to impose controls on the issuing of taxi licences to gangland figures in the aftermath of its headlong rush to deregulate the industry.

Particularly worrying is the absence of effective vetting of licence holders working in the front line of the country’s public transport service.

Following a spate of incidents, including the gangland killing of a taxi driver with a criminal background, plus eight instances in which, according to industry sources, female passengers claim to have been raped or sexually assaulted, major questions arise about customer safety, especially after bus services cease at night.

It goes without saying that the vast majority of people using taxis are not at risk.

But the alarming surge of incidents involving aggressive or violent drivers has heightened fears for the personal safety of passengers.

Because of the lack of guidelines and control procedures, the taxi business in Dublin is in danger of becoming a no-go area. Questions have also been posed about taxi operations in other parts of the country.

In the latest outrage, a 57-year-old taxi driver named Niall Mulvihill, also known as the Silver Fox, was killed in a gangland gun attack in the heart of Dublin, a murder bearing all the hallmarks of a contract killing.

It is instructive to examine his background. Associated with such leading crime bosses as The General, The Monk, and John Gilligan, Mulvihill was seen as a Mr Fixit.

Jailed in Holland in 1993 for possession of stolen paintings from the Beit collection, he was also involved in money laundering and insurance scams, owned a number of pubs, and had been billed for nearly €1m by the Criminal Assets Bureau.

The key question is how a figure known by the gardaí to be centrally involved in the fabric of organised crime in this country was able to get a taxi licence?

The answer lies in the Government’s total failure to take appropriate action to prevent licences falling into the hands of disreputable operators.

On a number of occasions, drugs have been discovered in taxis and two drivers have been found dead in their cabs after overdosing.

This appalling scenario has further been illustrated by the alleged rape of three young women by a taxi driver in the early hours of yesterday morning. For legal reasons he cannot be named but is due to appear in court again next week.

In perhaps the most notorious case involving a taxi driver, the man at the centre of the X case managed to get a licence after being released from prison.

He went on to assault a 14-year-old girl in his taxi and has been sentenced to three years in jail. His latest victim is now taking a civil case against the Department of Justice.

Although the X case case preceded deregulation, professionals in the industry argue that the bulk of such shocking and utterly unacceptable incidents and allegations are a direct consequence of the taxi free-for-all.

To highlight the gravity of the present situation, SIPTU, the country’s biggest union, will meet on Tuesday to consider staging a nationwide strike of protest over the prevailing shambles.

In the interest of public safety, there should be no further delay by Government in appointing a regulator to police the taxi industry.

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