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Children and teens taking the reins of horse-drawn tourist carriages in Dublin city centre

Last year the council stopped issuing carriage licences due to legal ambiguity – drivers have warned this lack of regulation will cause serious issues.

Image: Shutterstock

THERE IS CONCERN about teenagers and children taking the reins of tourist horse carriages in Dublin as professional drivers urge the government to reintroduce regulation of the industry in the capital. 

In 2018, Dublin City Council stopped issuing carriage driver licences that allow them to operate commercially.

Despite the fact that the council had been issuing these licences from 2011, it has now argued that this is actually the responsibility of An Garda Síochána under legislation from the mid-1800s, and that it has no legal basis to make by-laws. 

Professional carriage drivers in Dublin city have said this has left their industry in ‘legal limbo’ and has opened up the market to previously unlicenced operators. 

‘They’re not bad kids’

TheJournal.ie has been made aware of a number of examples of children and teenagers driving these tourist carriages in the city. This publication also recently observed several young boys – some under the age of 16 – waiting in carriages to pick up fares outside the Guinness Storehouse at St James’ Gate.

Carriage driver David Mulreany, who had a licence up until the council changed its position, said he is concerned for the welfare of the young people in the city who are driving the carriages, as well as the welfare of their horses. 

“In the area of Dublin 8 alone, when you see these children they have nothing in that area for them, nothing whatsoever to keep them on track and help these children.

This is not about making these kids out to be bad kids because 99% of them aren’t, they’re actually really lovely kids. They just need a little help and to be told they can’t do this, otherwise they’ll just keep doing it. They’re children at the end of the day.

Mulreany said “something else has to be put in place” for these young people, and it should be something that keeps them involved with horses if this activity is to be taken away from them. 

He said he and the other carriage drivers who make their living from the business are “still in the dark” about whether licencing will be reintroduced and who may be in charge if it is. 

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Legal position

They have written to Minister for Transport,  Tourism and Sport Shane Ross about the issue. In June, Ross told Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan that his department was engaging with Dublin City Council and An Garda Síochána to resolve the matter “as quickly as possible”.

He said advice had also been sought from the Attorney General about where these powers currently reside. He said he would address the matter “speedily” once the legal position is clearer. 

There are pieces of legislation that can be enforced in this area, including road safety legislation, the Control of Horses Act – which requires owners to have a horse licence and to be over the age of 16 – and animal welfare legislation. 

However professional operators and animal welfare charities claim the legislative powers that are not currently in “legal limbo” are not enforced enough. 

‘Regular checks’

When asked about the issue in relation to youths driving the tourist carriages, Dublin City Council said it would be “a matter for An Garda Síochána” to identify anyone underage in charge of a horse and carriages.

“The council would then be in a position to arrange seizure of horses.”

The Dublin South Central joint policing committee set up a sub-group in December last year to look at a number of issues involving horse welfare and licencing, including the handling of horses by underage individuals. 

TheJournal.ie also asked An Garda Síochána about the carriages outside the Guinness Storehouse. In response, the organisation referenced the Pearse Street district, which does not cover the St James’ Gate area. 

It said community gardaí attached to Pearse Street “regularly carry out checks” for horse passports and the welfare of the horses in their district. 

An Garda Síochána said no persons under 16 years have been found driving or in charge of horse drawn carriages within this district, which does not include the Guinness Storehouse. 

The Guinness Storehouse said it is aware of concerns surrounding the overall regulation of this industry and while it is not involved in licensing, it is engaging with the relevant authorities on “best steps to improve the situation”.

TheJournal.ie also asked the child and family agency Tusla about whether this was a potential child welfare issue. 

“Parents should ensure appropriate supervision of their children at all times,” the agency said. “Where someone has a concern about an individual child they should report it to their local duty social work office. 

“All child protection and welfare referrals are screened and assessed in line with Children First [guidelines], as appropriate.”

Welfare of animals

The My Lovely Horse Rescue (MLHR) charity has repeatedly called for a more robust licensing system to regulate the operation of carriages in the city. It is now even more concerned about horse welfare as the legal position of carriage licensing is unclear. 

However it said this presents an opportunity to introduce stronger by-laws to protect the horses and the passengers in the carriages. 

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The charity said any licensing system should include a thorough assessment of the horse by a vet for suitability to draw a carriage, a check that the harness is suitable and a carriage driving test. None of these measures were provided for in the council’s previous by-laws. 

It also suggested spot checks by authorities and a requirement for carriages to bear a visible licence plate number and a contact for tourists if they have a complaint. 

“Some carriages queue from 7am at the Guinness Storehouse, which opens at 9.30am, to ensure they are at the top of the queue for the first fare, usually around 10.30 or 11am,” MLHR said.

Regulating the number of drivers allowed to operate at busy tourist areas could help eliminate the need for this practice and ensure enough business for licensed drivers and that horses are not left standing for long hours, unable to move.

“MLHR strongly urge the council to provide proper facilities at designated hiring stands, for example drinking water, a hose for washing the horse and street down and shelter for the horses from the elements.”

After Dublin City Council stopped issuing carriage licences, the charity published a guide for anyone who takes a carriage ride in the city. 

It advised people to ensure the horse looks healthy and fit, and strong enough to pull the carriage. 

horse The horse should not be foaming at the mouth while standing, or sweating profusely. (This horse was spotted by the charity in Temple Bar in 2017)

People should ensure the carriage is in good condition, with no cable ties on the wheels for example. MLHR also advises people to ensure the driver is 16 years of age or older as it is illegal for a child under 16 to be in control of a horse in Dublin city. 

A driver without a horse licence (as opposed to a carriage licence, which is an additional step) may not be insured in an accident. 

MLHR has drafted 30 recommendations for improved by-laws which it said it will submit to the council once the legal position has been clarified. 

The charity works closely with David Mulreany and the other carriage drivers who previously held licences to lobby for increased regulation and monitoring of horse welfare in the city.

“Our own horses are kept brilliant, they’re well looked after. Myself and my brother, have been doing this all of our lives and it’s all we know how to do,” Mulreany said. 

“I’d just love somebody to let us know that there’s a way of holding onto this business, our business, safely. And that we don’t have to go queue up behind another 35 carriages and not know who’s standing in front of us.”

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