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State could be lumped with €400m taxi bill

TAXPAYERS could be left footing a €400m bill if taxi drivers win a landmark case on the deregulation of the industry.

The High Court is preparing to rule on three test cases in which the plaintiffs argue they are entitled to compensation.

The drivers who initiated the lawsuits had bought licences valued at IR£80,000 (€101,600) before deregulation.

Following the liberalisation of the licensing regime in 2000, new taxi plates had plummeted in value to just IR£5,000 (€6,350).

The potential €400m liability was revealed in a briefing document prepared for new Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe.

Officials at his department pointed out that "if established legal principal was to be overturned, the State could be faced with claims in excess of €400m".

More than 1,100 taxi drivers have lodged compensation claims, with a High Court ruling awaited on three test cases.

The drivers initiated proceedings against Dublin City Council, the Minister for the Environment, the Attorney General and Ennis Town Council.

They claimed deregulation breached their property rights under the Constitution, saying the value of their licences was wiped out "overnight".

Catastrophe

During the hearing, the High Court heard many cabbies suffered a "financially disastrous overnight catastrophe".

They should be entitled to damages as a result of what was an unlawful and unreasonable move, it was claimed last October.

The statement was made at the opening of actions by the three drivers.

Drivers who bought licences from other licence holders for sums as high as €100,000 had their constitutional rights to property, equal treatment and to earn a livelihood breached when the value of those licences was wiped out overnight in November 2000, counsel Michael Collins said.

Although a refund scheme was set up by some local authorities and a law was passed giving allowances to drivers who bought taxi licences prior to November 2001, the drivers claimed these measures were inadequate.

Mr Justice Michael Peart heard the cases between October and December last year and has yet to issue his judgment.

comurphy@herald.ie


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