200 million euro bonanza from Bertie, for Irish taxi drivers.!
The illustrious legal firm of McMahon O'brien Downes,36 Pembroke Road Ballsbridge represented many claimants in the "deaf soldiers" class action against the state, almost a decade ago,which resulted in the taxpayers of the nation presenting 300 million Euros to a few thousand members of the defence forces.They are in the final stages of preparing a similiar law suit against the Minister for the Environment and Local Government,Ireland; The Attorney General;and Dublin City Council; on behalf of 5000 taxi drivers who lost substantial assets when the taxi industry was re-regulated by the government in November 2000.
They have spent 6 years studying this particular debacle (hailed as a wonderful achievement of the then P.D. boss, Mata Hearney) and assembled an impressive catalogue of documentation to argue in the High Court that the manner in which the industry was regulated for many years was "unsatisfactory" and contrary to the principles of competition law.They will argue that, had the current regulatory regime-which is not anti-competitive- been in existance at all stages, then individuals who were members of the industry prior to "re-regulation" would most likely not have suffered any financial loss ,after the new regulatory regime was introduced in November 2000.
This will be an interesting case for Michael McDowell to handle,as it was his partner Mary Hearney who forced through the necessary re-regulation,despite the fact that Fianna Fail totally opposed the move,due to the cosy group voting "arrangement" which had been brokered on Bertie Ahern's behalf,by his "special envoy " to the Irish Taxi Federation-
the one and only, Ivor Callely !
The appearance of these notable characters alongside John Usher boss of the taxi Federation ,in the witness box during the high court proceedings,(presuming they are honest and open in their answers) may well elicit sufficient information on the whole saga to expedite speedy compensation payment to all those drivers who had anticipated,on retirement, a "pension" from renting their licences in much the same way as publicans and farmers currently rent drinking and milking licences.!
If Mr Usher reveals all of his wheelings and dealings with Ivor Callely, he may bring down not just a disgraced T.D. but an entire government.(If that's possible, with Fianna Fail..)
If the test cases coming before the courts in the new year are successful, the payout-based on the trading price of a Dublin taxi licence before re-regulation- will certainly exceed 200 million Euros countrywide. The bloodthirsty legal eagles will of course pocket about 20% of this amount in fees and outgoings. Not bad for a sequel to the box office record breaking "Deaf Soldiers" blockbuster.Then again as Fianna Fail are so practiced at compensating,hepatitis victims, the deaf ,the institutionally abused, the elderly (both living and the dead) that the next payout will hardly cause as much as a ripple in Leinster House or amongt the long suffering taxpayers of Ireland .
The government has already compensated some of the worst affected,who have been able to prove 'hardship" as a result of the fiasco, to the tune of about 10 million euros.So an element of liability has already been conceded,"de facto"
Will history repeat itself ?:
1998 report.Irish Independent.
A LAWYER has made a blistering counter-attack on the Minister of Defence for his offensive on the legal representatives of soldiers in army deafness claims.
In an unprecedented broadside, solicitor Seamus Downes described Minister Michael Smith's campaign as a "national scandal'' and a "gross wastage of public funds''.
The Limerick-based lawyer, whose firm represents more than 250 soldiers claiming for hearing loss, says the Department's legal defence against the soldiers' claims is "farcical,'' "ridiculous'' and wasting "tens of millions'' of taxpayers money.
The minister's use of a media campaign to blame the injured soldiers, their legal and medical advisers and even the judiciary is a national scandal, according to Mr Downes.
In an open letter to the Department of Defence's legal advisers, Mr Downes' penultimate paragraph says: "I would be obliged if you would kindly note my comments so that when, as inevitably will happen, the true facts of this scandal emerge in the public arena, that there will be no doubt where the fault for this unfortunate incident lies.''
Mr Downes also implies that the minister knowingly exaggerated the potential costs of the army deafness litigation.
Mr Smith has estimated the total bill for army deafness compensation at £1bn at least, while his advisors know the potential cost to the Exchequer is at most £300m, according to Mr Downes.
In an adjournment application made by the State last Easter, the secretary to the Department of Finance gave evidence that the budget provided to deal with these claims during the current year was £85m, and £95m for next year, with a similar provision for the following year.
According to Mr Downes, the Department could, if it chose, resolve the entire compensation problem over the next two to three years.
In an recent article inspired by the Department of Defence, a Sunday newspaper ran a headline `Baffling Divergence In Level Of Deafness Awards To Soldiers'.
If the newspaper had totalled the reported 86 awards by judges which they listed, the average settlement was £15,620. If that average was maintained, then the total cost of all the estimated 10,000 outstanding claims would be around £250m, including costs. For the minister's apocalyptic £1bn figure to be reached, the average award, including costs, would each need to be nearly £100,000.
The minister's spin which welcomed a judgment by Mr Justice Lavan while implicitly criticising another judgment by Mr Justice Johnston, is either ignorant or disingenuous Mr Justice Lavan awarded £3,000 damages for a 2pc hearing disability to a 59-year-old plaintiff while Mr Justice Johnston awarded more than £50,000 to a 35-year-old plaintiff with a current 7pc hearing loss which medical experts believe will increase to 22pc by the time he is 60.
Both judgments are entirely consistent and calculated by the same method.
Mr Downes accuses the minister of instructing his lawyers to delay cases going to court, resulting in an unwarranted and substantial increase of costs to the tax payer. In his letter he says that the Department invariably pleads that they do not owe a duty of care to the defendants, which is ``ridiculous'' when the department's own regulations dating back to 1952 clearly spell out its specific duty of care.
The department almost always pleads that the claimant soldier was never exposed to noise from arms and explosives when the details of their exposure is documented in their own records. This plea also increases the claimants' legal costs because of all the extra work required to detail their clients' exposure to noise sometimes over a 30 or 40-year period.
The department also regularly pleads that unprotected exposure to firearms and explosives does not cause hearing damage which is even more ludicrous when the current legislation, and the army's own regulations, detail that hearing damage can result from exposure to noise levels above 85 decibels whereas the noise from gunfire and explosives can be many hundred times greater.
This again requires additional preparation work by the claimant's lawyers and expert witnesses need to be hired to counter the Department's defence.
Mr Downes says that very often the Department instructs its legal team to admit liability at the opening of a case, or even during the hearing, which increases the legal costs enormously.
He says that if common sense prevailed, cases could be settled prior to the court hearing, so that witnesses, would not be required to turn up in court.
The Irish Independent published highlights of a letter written by a partner in Leahy & O'Sullivan, Seamus P Downes, to the Chief State Solicitor accusing the Minister for Defence of legal tactics which could cost taxpayers tens of millions.
Minister Michael Smith replied by saying Mr Downes ``is not entitled to purport to be some independent arbiter of what is the public interest in these cases'' and says ``a substantial cut in his instruction fee would be in order''.
Last night Seamus Downes said he wrote his letter on June 19 and had not received a reply, and he was glad the Minister had finally addressed the points he made.
Said Mr Downes: "I didn't have to complain publicly, I could take my fees and stay silent, except the way the issue has been handled is a scandal.
"We get less than 20pc of any fee, the rest goes to court costs, barristers, engineers, medical reports and witnesses. We bring all the witnesses to court and sometimes they sit for a week, then the case is settled.''
He added: "The claimant is always entitled to the same settlement, it's the cost that are the variable. Why does the Department of Defence insist on bringing all those witnesses to court when the case could have been settled?''