With New Generation of Carriage Drivers Come Safety Concerns

Tourists enjoy the horse-drawn carriages that take them clip-clopping through Dublin.

But some veteran carriage drivers say a new crop of young drivers aren’t trained and equipped as well as they could be. And the Garda say they have cracked down.

There are two main hiring stands for horse-drawn carriages in the city.

One is outside the Guinness Storehouse. The other is usually along Stephen’s Green, but has been suspended for a while because of Luas works.

The fares start from around €20 and can reach €40 for a longer trip across the city, say drivers.

The profile of carriage drivers ranges from old stalwarts who’ve been around horses and at the trade all their lives to a growing new crop of local young men who’ve taken an interest.

Dublin City Council is in charge of regulating who can drive and carry passengers in horse-drawn “hackney” or “jarvey” carriages.

Drivers must have council licences, which are issues and renewed each year, public liability insurance, and a certificate of equine handling competency.

Carriages must also all have a dung catcher fitted and drivers must be at least 16 years old. They can be fined as much as €1,900 if they break the rules.

A New Generation

At the carriage hiring stand on Bellevue outside the Guinness Storehouse on a Monday in late May, one 15-year-old driver said he’s been driving horses around the city since he was 12.

The driver — who we won’t name because he’s under 18 — said he learned by being around other drivers, and helping out. “I’m still in school, I just do this the days I’m not in school and on the weekends,” he said.

He’s never been in any accidents and the horses are used to the city, he said. “They’re grand yeah, you have to train them from a young age to stand and get used to the traffic.”

He thinks there are more horse carriages around these days, than a few years ago. “More people are taking an interest in horses,” he says.

It’s a good way to make a bit of money and visitors to the city seem to appreciate the offer of a ride in a Dublin carriage.

One Alabaman visitor, who gave his name as Drew, said he felt the carriages add something positive to the city. “I’ve seen them going around, it’s beautiful to see horses,” he said.

The Old Breed

The number of official operator licences handed out by Dublin City Council has fluctuated over the years, from 11 in 2011, to a low of 9 in 2013, and a peak of 19 in 2014. So far this year, 12 licences have been granted.

But some of the older jarvey drivers say they are concerned about an apparent uptake in younger drivers.

Pat Harass, 63, is one of the carriage drivers who has plied the trade throughout his life. “I’m around horses all my life, since I was three years of age, brought up around horses. There was horses in the family all through the years,” says Harass.

“My grandfather was a trader, my grandfather actually owned the place up in Rialto where all the Guinness horses were kept,” he says.

Harass said he was worried that the younger drivers haven’t been trained properly and don’t have licences. “There has after been a couple of incidents now in the last few weeks with young lads where the horses got spooked [on the roads] – it’s dangerous,” he said.

Harass’ hackney carriage looked to be the only one around that was fitted with the required dung catcher.

More needs to be done to address the number of unregulated drivers, he says. “Things should have been clamped down on years ago, and now it’s gone too far.”

A Blind Spot

It’s unclear whether the number of drivers without licences, under the age of 16, and with carriages that breach regulations, pose a safety concern for the city’s streets.

Neither the Garda Síochána, the Central Statistics Office, nor the Road Safety Authority have separate figures for traffic accidents involving horses. That makes them hard to monitor.

The RSA did say that there was one traffic collision involving a horse-drawn carriage that resulted in a fatality in the South Dublin City Council area, earlier this year.

Fianna Fail Dublin City Councillor Frank Kennedy said he’s never been alerted to any problems in this area. But “if it is occurring it is extremely dangerous,” he said. “Anyone who is prepared to operate in breach of the law and without a licence is inherently a risk to pedestrians.”

Ciaran Cuffe, Green Party councillor for the North Inner City, said he hasn’t had any complaints about unauthorised horse-drawn carriages. But it is “important that horse owners comply with the law and that animals are safely controlled and stabled,” he said.

A Garda Siochana Press Office spokesperson said by email that the force has “conducted operations targeting [carriage] operators who do not operate within the legislation”.

On a recent Sunday at the carriage hiring stand near the Guinness Storehouse, two gardaí stopped a carriage.

They pulled it off the road to question the drivers. The two boys driving the carriage were found to be under 16. They boys had no licence, and apparently neither owned the carriage.

The Garda monitor the issue of underage drivers, and have received complaints in relation to unlicenced carriages, the spokesperson said — although they didn’t go into numbers.

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Jack Power: Jack Power is a Northside native. You can reach him via [email protected], and follow him at @jackjpower83.

Reader responses

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Mícheál Ó Doibhilín
at 22 June 2016 at 12:06

I think the carriages are terrific, and look great as they trot sedately around the city. however, I think the whole concept is let down badly by the drivers, most of whom are dressed disgracefully – usually in old jeans and jackets. Surely there should be a dress code – if they are trying to emulate a bygone time they must be able to dress accordingly, in age-appropriate clothing. I wouldn’t use one of these because the experience would not appear authentic precisely because of the dreadful dress of the drivers. Could the City Council insist on a dress code or a uniform as part of the license?

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