End of the line for cowboy clampers

I was very pleased to see this month that Leo Varadkar is planning to tighten the rules for private clampers. Back in February of last year I attended a session of the Oireachtas Transport Committee to let them know what the AA felt about the issue.

 To state the extremely obvious, motorists don’t like being clamped. When we researched the issue we found that about seven per cent of motorists reported that they had been clamped in the previous year. Of those fully two thirds felt that they had been hard done by and only 20 per cent felt that it was fair.

 There are two distinct types of clamping and they are very different. Firstly, you can be clamped by a local authority. It has been used by local authorities in Cork, Dublin, Galway and elsewhere and it works. I remember myself just how absurd the parking controls were in Dublin prior to its introduction. It was essentially a free for all, with all available spaces filling up in the early morning and businesses suffering as a result.

 Local authorities are democratically elected. They have a mandate to set local by-laws for parking and they have appeals mechanisms to deal with people clamped wrongly. These makes them legitimate even if they are unpopular.

 For these important reasons the AA is willing to tolerate clamping by local councils as something of a necessary evil provided that they play fair with people.

 But there are also private clampers operating on private land. These guys are a law unto themselves.

 It is reasonable that if you own a small business or operate in a shopping centre, a hospital or a church you are entitled to have your parking kept free for your customers. It is not fair if those spaces fill up with all-day commuters while your business is dying beneath you. Clamping looks like a simple solution.

 Simple does not mean fair though. You often see private clampers in operation presenting themselves as being of equal legitimacy as local authority clampers. They are not.

 This was allowed to get completely out of hand in the UK. The worst sort of thugs moved into the business and we heard all sorts of stories about them essentially demanding money with menaces. It was as lawless as the wild west and eventually they just banned it in England and Wales.

 To be fair to those in the industry here it was never, ever that bad in Ireland. Private clampers have actually behaved fairly well and we did not have the sort of scumbags that got involved in the UK.

Even so they are in effect set up as enforcer, beneficially, judge and appeals mechanism rolled into one. This just isn’t right.

 The fees charged by private clampers are just made up by themselves. Most have tended to charge €120 but that has no basis in law. Certainly it should never be presented as being a ‘fine’ because it is not.

 We made a series of recommendations to the Minster and to the committee on what they should do about it. They have in fact published a bill that is pretty much exactly what the AA had recommended.

 Clampers must obtain a licence to operate from the National Transport Authority. We suggested the local council but I won’t split hairs – I’m happy enough for it to be the NTA.

 Private clampers will not be allowed to charge more than the local authority charges in a given area. They will have a code of practice, must show that they are tax compliant and of good character, will need to carry proper licence identification and display it on their vehicles. The NTA will take over all appeals and will run a two-stage appeals system similar to the one that operates effectively in Dublin.

 You can find out more by checking out the Department of Transport’s website. Alternatively you can check out the AA Blog and read what we said about it to the committee in February of last year: the new proposed law contains our recommendations pretty much word for word.

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