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Dáil told taxi drivers forced to call off today's protest - but gardaí say it was a matter for the groups alone

Richard Boyd Barrett told the Tánaiste the drivers were “threatened with fines”.

File image. The gardaí maintain that the taxi driver groups decided not to go ahead with the planned protest today.
File image. The gardaí maintain that the taxi driver groups decided not to go ahead with the planned protest today.
Image: RollingNews.ie

PEOPLE BEFORE PROFIT TD Richard Boyd Barrett has said that it is “absolutely shocking” that taxi drivers have been prevented from holding a protest whilst in their cars today in Dublin’s city centre. 

He told the Tánaiste in the Dáil this afternoon that drivers were forced to call it off even though they made it clear they were going to comply with public health guidelines. 

“They were threatened with fines, implications for the future licensing of their vehicles and the possibility of their leaders facing prison sentences or massive fines. Is that not political policing against taxi drivers?” 

Boyd Barrett said approximately 25,000 taxi drivers have been “crucified” by the impact of Covid-19 public health restrictions. 

He said that would continue to be the case as long as other sectors on which they depend for their income  – like music, entertainment, events, tourism and aviation – are affected. 

“To add insult to injury, those taxi drivers were planning to come to Government Buildings this morning at 10 o’clock to engage in a public health compliant protest where they made it absolutely clear that they would be in their cars so as not to breach public health guidelines,” he said. 

He told Leo Varadkar that despite communicating that to the gardaí on Wednesday, one of the representatives of the four national taxi groups received a call from gardaí in which they were informed that if they turned up in their cars, every driver would be fined €100 and the organisers of the protest could face up to €20,000 in fines or up to two years imprisonment.

The Journal asked the gardaí for comment about the claims made in the Dáil today. A statement provided states:

“An Garda Síochána does not comment on remarks by third-parties.

“To be clear, and as stated publically on multiple occasions previously, An Garda Síochána has no role in licensing or approving protests. In other words, An Garda Síochána cannot ban protests.”

It said throughout the pandemic, gardaí have operated the engaging, explaining, and encouraging approach, with enforcement a last resort.

“In line with public health advice and public health regulations, in the first instance, An Garda Síochána would ask people not to organise or attend such protests,” added the statement.

“In this case, as with all planned protests that An Garda Síochána is aware of, senior Garda management in the Dublin Metropolitan Region (DMR) engaged with the groups planning this protest and those groups positively engaged with us.

“Following this engagement, it is our understanding that these groups no longer intend to go ahead with their protest. This is entirely a matter for those groups.

“To date, there has been no enforcement activity by An Garda Síochána in relation to these planned protests,” the statement concluded.

Varadkar said that gardaí are responsible for enforcing the laws enacted in the Oireachtas.

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“That is what they have to do,” he said.

He said taxi drivers are among the groups that have suffered the most in this pandemic, if not in health terms but certainly in economic terms.

Varadkar said he had met with taxi drivers and is following up on some of the issues they raised with the Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan. 

He said taxi drivers are eligible for the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) and are also allowed to continue to work and receive the social welfare payment. 

The measure was announced last year that self employed people can earn €960 over two months while also claiming the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP). 

It can allow earnings of up to €960 every eight weeks, without jeopardising their entitlement to the payment. 

Yesterday, Sinn Féin’s Justice spokesperson Martin Kenny said the right to protest is a “precious and the hallmark of a democratic society. Banning a protest should be a rare and necessary action and not taken lightly”.

“I call on Drew Harris, the Garda Commissioner, to ensure that the Covid-19 pandemic is not used to prevent legitimate protest and to facilitate the taxi-drivers to have their event,” he said.

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