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Ruling against Cork hotel car service may have ‘national consequences’ for similar businesses

A Cork court has ruled that a courtesy car service operating without a license at a luxury five-star hotel in Cork was doing so illegally, which could have “national consequences” for businesses across Ireland.

The National Transport Authority (NTA) took up the case against Fota Island Resort’s Xiu Lan Ltd under Article 46 of the Taxi Regulation Act 2013.

Fota Island Resort had separately been embroiled in recent legal battles over its ownership in the High Court.

It was alleged that the accused was operating a vehicle at the Elm Tree restaurant, Killahora, Glounthane, to transport people for reward, while the driver did not have a license to drive a small public service vehicle. It was alleged that this was contrary to section 22(4) of the Taxi Regulation Acts 2013 and 2016 and therefore constituted an offence.

At Midleton District Court, Judge Colm Roberts said the NTA had argued that the courtesy car service fell within established legislation. “It’s a conviction,” he said. “I have some sympathy for the hotel and the employees because I believe they acted on advice,” Judge Roberts said.

But that advice was not a correct interpretation, he said. “I think the service requires a public service license,” she said.

Xiu Lan Ltd’s lawyer, Brian Hallissey BL, said: “This is not a simple case.” “I would have to respectfully say it’s borderline. It’s not a clear cut question.”

Lack of clarity

The NTA had relied on earlier UK authority to support its prosecution against Fota, which Hallissey did not believe the High Court had upheld in an earlier decision.

Judge Roberts said Fota Island Resort could appeal his decision. “I understand that this has national consequences,” Judge Roberts said.

If Hallissey said the case lacked clarity then it should be appealed, he said. Hallissey said he would need to receive further instructions from his client, but he understood there would be another case on this matter.

“I would have no difficulty in allowing an appeal on a case stated in the circumstances,” Justice Roberts said. While District Court decisions may contradict each other, “a Superior Court decision may provide more clarity.”

This was “the kind of case that could benefit” from an appeal, Justice Roberts said.

Hallissey said: “This is a well-known and well-run business. There is no indication that there was anything hidden. Many hotels throughout the country have a courtesy car service.”

“Bad luck, bad timing”

Judge Roberts said it was “bad luck, bad timing” for Fota Island Resort. The judge said the “healthy hotel” would face a fine of 500 euros with two months’ pay.

NTA lawyer Diarmuid Collins BL said the NTA would seek €1,000 in costs from Xiu Lan Ltd. This amount is “nowhere near” the costs of the case,” Mr Collins said.

Judge Roberts said: “The NTA had to take the case, they don’t do it for fun. 1,000 euros is only a small contribution to your costs.”

Collins said there was a similar case before but the defendant pleaded guilty. “There are licenses available for courtesy vehicles,” he said.

Judge Roberts said: “I fully accept that the NTA did the right thing in initiating the proceedings and had no choice. It is a practice that I am not entirely convinced can continue as it is being done.”

The NTA regulates small public service vehicles with eight seats or less. He maintains that tourist vehicles used by hotels must have a license.

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