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Andrew Lynch: Dozy Dempsey sleeping on the job while cowboy clampers go on rampage

What exactly has the Government got against motorists? In the last week alone we've had Noel Dempsey's threat of a new petrol tax and John Gormley's farcical plan to crack down on tradesmen who use their vans to pick up a pint of milk on the way home.

Now the Minister for Transport has set drivers' teeth on edge yet again -- by refusing to take action against the rogue clampers who are making so many people's lives a misery.

Simon Coveney may have backed the wrong horse in the recent Fine Gael leadership battle, but his new proposals to regulate the parking control industry suggest that this time he's on to a winner.


Under the policy he unveiled yesterday, it would be illegal for clampers to target vehicles on private property unless they belonged to an approved company with an operating licence. The fine would be capped at €80, all employees would have to be vetted by the gardai and there would be an independent appeals mechanism for anyone who felt they'd been treated unfairly.

The reaction of most drivers to these sensible reforms would be simple -- what's not to like? While the legislation will be brought before the Dail in the autumn, however, Noel Dempsey has already warned Coveney that he's wasting his time.

The Minister says that the current Road Traffic Acts only apply to the parking of vehicles on public roads in local authority car parks -- and he has no plans to introduce new regulations for the private sector.

If this seems like a woefully inadequate explanation, then that's entirely in keeping with Dempsey's style.

When the Minister was caught out last month using the Government jet to travel to a summer school in Donegal, he retorted that it was the only way he could make sure of getting to an urgent meeting in London the following day. The precise subject of that meeting, however, was apparently so sensitive that it could not possible be shared with the great unwashed who actually pay through the nose to keep that jet in the air

If Dempsey was looking for an easy way to boost his popularity, taking on rogue clampers would be a no-brainer.

Every law-abiding person who gets behind the wheel of a car accepts that some public spaces need to be kept off limits. The problems begin when private operators sense the chance to make a quick buck, targeting vehicles in hospitals, churches and other areas where any reasonable person would have assumed it was safe to park.

In other words, the cowboys are on the rampage and the sheriff is asleep at his desk.

As any sensible Minister for Transport should realise, clamping is supposed to be about keeping the traffic flowing rather than generating a profit for private companies. Instead, the lack of regulation within the industry is causing havoc, allowing little Hitlers to ruin people's days and causing vicious rows in public spaces around the country.

Every motoring lobby worthy of the name has called out for some kind of clamping reform. As Dempsey's contemptuous response to this latest initiative confirms, however, it will not be happening any time soon under the current regime.

Whether he thinks that he's already popular enough or simply can't be bothered, it seems that eradicating this particular cause of road rage will have to wait until we have a Minister for Transport who's just a little more in touch with the public mood.

Noel Dempsey has been blocking up a perfectly good space in the cabinet for far too long. It's about time somebody towed him away.