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Heart-strings tugged as drivers stage their own Muppet Show

IT'S BEING billed as The Muppet Show and it's coming to a taxi rank near you soon.

That's according to leaflets handed out at yesterday's meeting of taxi drivers in the National Stadium, where a chaotic free-for-all in a deregularised taxi market was predicted.

With the Taoiseach cast as Bertie the Frog and Tanaiste Mary Harney as Miss Piggy, it was perhaps inevitable that the bete noire of taxi drivers, Junior Minister Bobby Molloy, would be dubbed Gonzo.

However, if anyone was laughing on the way into the meeting yesterday, it was a different story when it ended, as up to 2,000 angry drivers chanted "Molloy out, Molloy out".

Passions were at boiling point after an almost two-hour session of drivers from all over the country taking turns to stand up and tell how they would suffer - by losing their jobs or homes.

"It was a tense meeting and also a very emotional one," said the vice-president of the National Taxi Drivers' Union (NTDU), Vincent Kearns.

"We listened to one of our colleagues from Galway explain his situation and I don't think there was a man or woman in the place who did not have a tears in their eyes.

"We also heard a five-year-old asking how his father was going to survive. He wanted to know who Bobby Molloy was and how he could do this."

Union leaders explained they had brought the men together to explain that they were meeting with Mr Molloy on Tuesday. Following that, another meeting on Tuesday night would decide upon a strategy. It was warned, however, that that taxi unions would be viewing the meeting with the minister as a form of negotiation. If it turned out to be nothing more than a discussion, then "big problems" lay ahead.

Earlier, the National Stadium had at times resembled Croke Park. A large contingent of taxi drivers waved Galway GAA flags as roars echoed around the crowd, which included a small number of women and children.

Among the speakers was a driver from the country, who had an artificial leg fitted to enable him to drive his taxi. Weeping, he told how he had attempted suicide, had been in psychiatric care and now stood to lose massively after spending 100,000 to buy his licence.

A particularly frosty reception was give to the media from many drivers angry at how they feel they have been depicted.

Reporters were told after the meeting that the drivers are prepared to continue striking even over the Christmas.

"We know that this will go on like the miners' strike," said one.

"We will do whatever it takes - one bad Christmas is better than having to face 20 others if we do nothing."

By BEN QUINN

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