Unregulated clampers charging up to €120 in car parks of hospitals
Patients and visitors to hospitals across the country are facing clamping fees of up to €120 - in an industry without regulation.
The release fees can vary from €24 to €120, but bear little relation to the location of a hospital and whether it is in a town or city, an Irish Independent survey has revealed.
They are operated by private companies on behalf of the State-funded hospitals and, as yet, are not subject to any regulation.
A spokesman for St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin said its charge of €120, the highest in the country, is pitched at a level to deter illegal and dangerous parking.
He said it is focused on the emergency centres and the parking spaces for invalids, and not as a revenue-raising mechanism.
But the spokesman did not provide figures for how many people have fallen foul of the hospital's clamping rules.
Private clamping firms also operate in Cork University Hospital, University Hospital Waterford and in St Luke's General Hospital.
The penalties are imposed on cars parked in dedicated parking areas for radiotherapy patients, disabled parking areas, set-down areas for patients, and areas with double yellow lines.
To date, it has proved an effective deterrent and has "greatly assisted in traffic management and traffic flow throughout the hospital campuses for the benefit of patients and all those trying to access the hospitals".
A spokesman said: "The clamping service is provided by private companies and a charge of €100 is levied by the clamping companies when a car is clamped. The hospitals receive no part of this fee."
There were 138 cars clamped in Cork University Hospital in 2013 and 74 last year. University Hospital Waterford clamped 238 motorists in 2013, and 314 last year.
St Luke's General Hospital also has a high rate of clamping cars, imposing penalties on 153 motorists in 2013 and 278 last year.
Kerry General Hospital, which charges €50, had 37 cars clamped in 2013 - but six of these were released on compassionate grounds.
Another 20 vehicles were clamped last year and five were released without charge, with one paying a reduced charge of €12.
The clamping release charge at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda is €80 - but nobody was penalised in the last two years. There is no clamping at Cavan or Monaghan Hospitals.
The figures come as proposed new legislation which will regulate clamping for the first time in private and public areas - including hospitals - is at an advanced stage in its passage through the Oireachtas.
The Vehicle Clamping Bill, originally introduced by Health Minister Leo Varadkar in his previous role as Transport Minister, will regulate the sector and set maximum clamping release charges.
The current Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe said: "For the most part, complaints to my department over the years do not object to clamping per se, but rather to unfair and unreasonable treatment whether perceived or real by clamping operators.
"Clamping has become more widespread in recent years, particularly in urban areas, and many people feel they are being unfairly treated either by excessive charges or a lack of proper signage.
There is a clear need to establish broad rules governing clamping activity and the manner in which these rules should be complied with."
The Vehicle Clamping Bill 2014 was introduced to the Oireachtas last October and the Bill has passed all stages in the Seanad.
It is expected to be introduced in the Dáil shortly.