DONEGAL TIMES

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March 24th 2004

Turf War breaks out on Diamond
Taxis and Hackneys square up in dispute over ‘hailing rights’

Tensions that have been simmering below the surface are rising to the top in the on-going ‘turf war’ between taxis and hackneys on the streets of Donegal Town.
For over two years there has been a sort of unofficial truce in the hostilities, but this is now at an end and open warfare exists. This is mainly over the way hackney men are allowed to canvass customers. In the strict sense, hackneys should not tout for business – rather wait at base to be contacted. But this remit has largely been ignored – mainly on the basis of practicality, in that, particularly at weekends, taxis would not be able to provide sufficient cover for the numbers requiring their services.
About 30 months ago, following similar tensions, Gardai requested a meeting with the two factions, following which an ‘agreement’ was reached that allowed the hackney into the town centre from 10 o’clock at night. But now the taxi men say a lot more vehicles have joined their ranks and they want a blanket ban on hackneys on the streets at any time.
Things came to a head last Monday week. Following a meeting with representatives of the taxi men, Sgt. Ignatius Larkin went to the hackney operators and told them they would no longer be able to park on The Diamond at night. The hackneys are angry at this – they claim the taxi men are ‘cherrypicking’ – only providing cover at peak times – and have scant resources in place when most needed i.e. late at night. The hackney men say the guards know this and, to avoid the obvious dangers of crowds of people hanging round in the early hours, are keen to reach a compromise to sort out the impasse.
The latest suggestion put forward by Sgt. Larkin is that hackneys be allowed on the streets from 12 midnight – but their drivers say this is too late.
The taxi men claim they can provide sufficient cover at all times and that the hackneys must stay at home and wait to be called out.
The guards are caught in the middle - seeking a solution that is fair to both sides.
And while all this is waiting to be sorted out - the loser will probably be the punter on the street - who just wants to get home!
The taxis also have an additional problem - a new law to implement. As from yesterday, 22nd March, they were obliged to display a sticker informing that, from April 1st, customers have to take the first taxi in the rank. This will not suit some of the more established operators who have built up their own clientele.
The taxi-men are also unhappy at the lack of parking spaces allocated to them on the Diamond. A spokesman told Donegal Times “There are sixteen taxis and only four spaces - how can we implement the first taxi regulation if we can’t get parked. We are paying big money to the council and it’s up to them to ensure we have enough spaces.”

County GAA star Shane Carr and bride Emer Kelly cut the cake following their marriage in the Church of St Joseph and Connell, Bruckless with reception held at The Mill Park Hotel, Donegal Town Photo: Jason McGarrigle

Parade good - but lack of bands a disappointment

Driving around town early morning St Patricks Day, the main impression was the lack of flags, bunting or any sign that this was the feast day of our national saint. The only green to be seen was on the persons of a small group of Americans walking around the Diamond - no doubt puzzled by the absence of any kind of festive atmosphere.
Terrible showers all morning gave way to fair weather at lunchtime - and, despite threatening all afternoon, the elements held off till after the parade. With big crowds gathering from early - by the 3pm start the centre of town was packed. The running of the event, stewarding, platform, commentary, pre-parade entertainment and policing was good. It is a big task for a voluntary committee to take on - entailing a lot of hard work to put it all together.
The big lack in last week’s parade was the absence of bands. Fair play to the two that were there – what would we do without the Ardaghey boys – but one pipe band and a children’s troupe is not sufficient for a spectacle that draws thousands of people into town – some travelling long distances to be there.
Our town has advanced over the past few years in that we now have a professional set-up, with a paid manager executing chamber policy. Planning for next year’s parade should start today – we need more bands, samba groups, percussion ensembles, Disney characters, stilt walkers - anything that injects life, movement and excitement into a spectacle that has become a bit too procession-like and static. If necessary, business people who benefit should be asked to sponsor a specific outfit.
Having said that, well done to those who entered floats - the people who made a huge effort to take part and present their company or organisation in the best possible light - and congratulations to all the well deserved prizewinners - the sub-aqua, in particular, was terrific.
But we need to move forward - and now is the time. We must go out and recruit for next year - there are all too few quality bands and entertainers - and all too many chasing them.

Compromise needed in the interpretation of Health and Safety

The recent closure of several stalls on the French market in the Diamond, under Health and Safety legislation, is yet another example of well meaning local enterprise to stimulate tourism and local commerce being thwarted by what appears to be excessively dutiful interpretation of EU health and safety rules pertaining to food in the northwest. A colourfully Gallic display of French foodstuffs, not available locally, but being enjoyed for that weekend by locals and visitors alike, was seriously damaged by the actions of the health and safety officials, causing annoyance to the traders and great embarrassment to Donegal Town. Why should these stalls have been closed in Donegal when they had operated without problem throughout France, Dublin, Belfast and other parts of Ireland?
Health and Safety regulations relative to food are vital but in the northwest there seem to be many instances of excessive implementation to the detriment of commercial and charitable initiatives involving food. Officials require the production of onerous records on hygiene, food segregation and precise refrigeration temperatures – the keeping of these records is one of the factors significantly contributing to the costs of food in Ireland relative to that on the continent.
In France, Spain, Italy or Portugal, every town has open and closed markets where an array of olives, cheeses, salamis, figs, vegetables and many other foodstuffs are sold in close proximity to each other. These countries are all in the EU, subject to EU rules but the interpretation is in marked contrast to what is practiced in Ireland at large, but particularly in the northwest, where increasingly the Irish person and visitor is only permitted by the bureaucrats to eat sanitized, plastic wrapped, segregated foodstuffs. Local barbecues for sporting or charity events are becoming a thing of the past as the organizers are in fear and trembling of officialdom. Yes, health and safety regulations should be enforced - but with interpretation allowing some compromise.
The powers that be in our elective representatives must sit down with these health and safety officials and agree a pragmatic level of commercial compromise in the interpretation and application of these rules before ultimately we are only allowed eat plastic wrapped food and “Ireland of the Welcomes” has been kissed goodbye.

Apology

We have been asked by Mr Kevin Martin to state that, contrary to the opinion piece in our last issue, he has no connection whatsoever with the development taking place behind All Sports, that opens on to the Diamond/Main Street car park. We apologise for any embarrassment caused.


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