Thursday, 11 April 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
This week it was reported that a man had been before the courts on three counts of sexual assault of three women over two weeks in 2016.
In one case, the man in question, a taxi driver, touched a 19 year old woman's chest, rubbed her cheek, and when she managed to get out, he followed her in his taxi and continued to harass her and try to get her back into the car. He rubbed the face and lip of another victim, a 20 year old woman, before brushing his hand down the right side of her body. When she arrived at her home, he asked her if she needed a hug before he leaned in towards her as if to kiss her. In another case, an 18 year old schoolgirl got into his taxi and he immediately began rubbing her leg and telling her how soft her skin was. She managed to push him away and he tried to get his hand into her underwear. The woman in question accepted a call from her friend while in the taxi and tried to give her the information she could read from his ID. He became very angry, leaned across her, opened the door and told her to get out. She tried to take a photograph of him but he stopped her from doing so. The man in question here has pleaded guilty to these incidents and his legal team have accepted that these were young vulnerable people who were relying on him to bring them home safely. He did not do that.
I accept that court decisions and sentencing are the remit of the Judiciary and I will not be commenting in a way that influences that, although the Tánaiste will know that I am anxious for sentencing guidelines to be introduced to ensure consistent and fair sentencing. What I want to raise with the Tánaiste is the safety of women. Bail conditions have been agreed for this man that stipulate that he can continue to drive a taxi but that female passengers are not permitted as front seat passengers. Incredibly, this man is still entitled to drive a taxi and carry passengers, including women. This is outrageous. How can any women feel safe in a taxi, no matter where they are seated, that is being driven by a man who has pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual assault? What mother or father would not be worried that this man could collect their daughters tonight in a taxi? It is unsafe, it is absolutely wrong, and our legislation should not allow it.
What is the Government going to do to ensure that people who are guilty of sexual offences and these specific types of offences are nowhere near taxis and in a position to collect people? What message does this send to the overwhelming majority of decent taxi drivers and the checks they have to go through? If it requires legislative change, let us do that. The Minister for Transport Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, needs to get on top of this immediately. It is beyond unacceptable. It is frightening that such a man could drive a taxi in Dublin tonight and it should not be allowed.