Several black taxi drivers in Belfast are set to take legal action following a memo issued by security firm responsible for a leading tech conference which suggested they are operated by the IRA.
Staff were told not to take black cab tours of Belfast’s famous wall murals due to IRA involvement.
Lawyer Colin McMenamin has confirmed that KRW Law has been instructed by a number of drivers following complaints over abusive comments already made to them as a result.
One taxi driver who was shot in a sectarian attack more than 20 years ago has said he is in fear for his life and is considering giving up his job after delegates due to attend a British intelligence-linked cyber security event were warned not to take black cabs ‘because they are run by the IRA’.
Lawyers for around 50 people say defamation proceedings are to be launched after false claims about the taxi industry were made in a security briefing paper ahead of this week’s CyberUK 2023 event, which is being organised by the ‘National Cyber Security Centre’ (NCSC). It is linked to a secretive organisation, tGeneral Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), used by the British government and British military.
Mr O’Halloran’s lawyer Colin McMenamin, of KRW Law, said defamation action will now be taken against the NCSC. KRW has said although the memo was later withdrawn, it was “too late because of the reputational damage it caused to a clearly identifiable class of people.”
“Black taxi operatives in Belfast were immediately put at risk because of the toxic content of the memo. We can confirm we have now received instruction from a number of black taxi drivers after complaints over abusive comments made to them,” they said.
“In one of the cases, a driver said that within one or two hours of this being made known he was accused of being in the IRA.
“He has been doing his job for a number of years now. He told us he’s left with little choice but to seriously think about resigning from a job he’s loved doing. He doesn’t want to be accosted like this again. Bluntly, he fears his life is now at risk.
“The ramifications of this are far-reaching. Not only have a clearly identifiable class of people have been defamed, but they are badly exposed here to ridicule and worse. We have no hesitation in issuing proceedings against the offending parties.”
Black taxi tours have been a staple of the city’s offer to visitors for more than two decades, with most drivers operating cross-community mural tours taking in the Falls and Shankill areas.
The document advised those thinking of travelling in a black taxi to avoid them, as they are “run by the IRA”.
The dramatic memo also stated those with “English” accents would not be welcome in certain parts of the city, and warned that security may be compromised if delegates were to “eat outside the city centre”.
It is understood potential attendees were advised to say they were under a non-disclosure agreement if asked why they were in Belfast, and to not use the term “CyberUK” outside of the conference venue.
One driver, who is not taking legal action and asked to remain anonymous, criticised the document. He said: “It’s really all a load of absolute rubbish. We don’t want to be branded with IRA or UVF or anything like that.
“The taxis and the tours are straight down the middle.
“We have been established for 30-odd years, have over 1,000 reviews, and you’ll not find one mention of sectarianism in them. We are Catholics and Protestants who work together.”