A taxi driver who made lewd comments to a female passenger has had his conviction for breaching the peace overturned on appeal to the Circuit Court.
52-year-old African father of four, Mathew Ibenye, of 118 An Sean Bhaile, Doughiska, had been charged under Section 6 of the Public Order Act with breaching the peace following a complaint from a female passenger of a lewd conversation he initiated with her about his genitals after she had hailed his taxi down outside a city pub on July 18, 2019 and asked him to take her home to Knocknacarra.
He was convicted and fined €500 by Judge Mary Fahy following a contested hearing in the District Court last November and appealed that conviction to the higher court.
Allowing the appeal last week in the Circuit Court, Judge Rory McCabe said he believed every word the woman told the court and what she said had been the truth.
However, he said he was not satisfied the evidence presented to the court (by the prosecution) fell within the definition of Section 6 of the Public Order Act that “It shall be an offence for any person in a public place to use or engage in any threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with intent to provoke a breach of the peace or being reckless as to whether a breach of the peace may be occasioned”. It was with regret he had to dismiss the conviction and allow the appeal.
The woman told both courts she hailed Ibenye’s taxi down outside a city pub around 2am and asked him to bring her home to Knocknacarra.
He told her he was single, was from Ghana and had been living in Ireland for eight years.
She said he suggested they go back to her home for drinks after telling her all Polish women were sexy.
The woman said she knew she was in danger when Ibenye asked her if she had alcohol back at her house before turning around in his taxi to tell her all black men were well endowed and he had “a big d..k”.
“He told me all Polish women were very beautiful and very sexy. I couldn’t believe my ears when he turned around to me and he said he had a big d..k. I knew I was in danger,” she said.
On the way to her home, the woman asked Ibenye to stop at the filling station in Lower Salthill on the pretext of getting cash from the ATM to pay the fare, but all she wanted to do was get out of the taxi, she said. She also knew there would be staff there to help her as it was a 24-hour station.
He stopped in the forecourt and she got out and took a picture of his taxi number before asking staff for help.
The Gardai were called and two arrived a few minutes later. They sent Ibenye on his way after taking his details and brought the woman home in the patrol car.
The woman denied during cross-examination by Ronan Murphy, solicitor, at the initial District Court hearing that she had initiated the turn in conversation and she also denied she made the allegations because she didn’t want to pay the fare.
Both courts heard Ibenye became “visibly hysterical” when Garda Kieran Quinn approached him on the forecourt and put the woman’s allegations about the conversation they had had in the taxi to him.
He told Gardai Quinn it was the woman who had told him she knew black men were good in bed and they had “big c..ks.”
Mr Murphy applied in the District Court to have the charge dismissed. He said the State had tendered no evidence to suggest his client had done anything to provoke a breach of the peace.
Judge Fahy thought otherwise and recorded a conviction.
At the appeal hearing last week, Brendan Browne BL, said his client had been charged under Section 6 of the Public Order Act, and yet there was no evidence before the court to suggest his client had ever breached the peace or had been reckless as to whether a breach of the peace had occurred.
Mr Browne said his client did not use threatening, abusive or insulting language and contended the proper mode for prosecution in these type of cases would have been under the 1961 Road Traffic (Public Service Vehicle) Act, or under the 2015 Taxi Regulations.
He said there was no evidence his client’s intention was to provoke a breach of the peace.
“If a taxi driver starts talking about his genitals, that might cause a reaction which might lead to a breach of the peace. A vehicle for hire is defined as a public place,” State solicitor William Kennedy, prosecuting, suggested.
Judge McCabe held with Mr Browne and granted the appeal.
Galway ‘masterplan’ needed to tackle housing and transport crises
From the Galway City Tribune – An impassioned plea for a ‘masterplan’ that would guide Galway City into the future has been made in the Dáil. Galway West TD Catherine Connolly stated this week that there needed to be an all-inclusive approach with “vision and leadership” in order to build a sustainable city.
Deputy Connolly spoke at length at the crisis surrounding traffic and housing in Galway city and said that not all of the blame could be laid at the door of the local authority.
She said that her preference would be the provision of light rail as the main form of public transport, but that this would have to be driven by the government.
“I sat on the local council for 17 years and despaired at all of the solutions going down one road, metaphorically and literally. In 2005 we put Park & Ride into the development plan, but that has not been rolled out. A 2016 transport strategy was outdated at the time and still has not been updated.
“Due to the housing crisis in the city, a task force was set up in 2019. Not a single report or analysis has been published on the cause of the crisis,” added Deputy Connolly.
She then referred to a report from the Land Development Agency (LDA) that identified lands suitable for the provision of housing. But she said that two-thirds of these had significant problems and a large portion was in Merlin Park University Hospital which, she said, would never have housing built on it.
In response, Minister Simon Harris spoke of the continuing job investment in the city and also in higher education, which is his portfolio.
But turning his attention to traffic congestion, he accepted that there were “real issues” when it came to transport, mobility and accessibility around Galway.
“We share the view that we need a Park & Ride facility and I understand there are also Bus Connects plans.
“I also suggest that the City Council reflect on her comments. I am proud to be in a Government that is providing unparalleled levels of investment to local authorities and unparalleled opportunities for local authorities to draw down,” he said.
Then Minister Harris referred to the controversial Galway City Outer Ring Road which he said was “struck down by An Bord Pleanála”, despite a lot of energy having been put into that project.
However, Deputy Connolly picked up on this and pointed out that An Bord Pleanála did not say ‘No’ to the ring road.
“The High Court said ‘No’ to the ring road because An Bord Pleanála acknowledged it failed utterly to consider climate change and our climate change obligations.
“That tells us something about An Bord Pleanála and the management that submitted such a plan.”
In the end, Minister Harris agreed that there needed to be a masterplan for Galway City.
“I suggest it is for the local authority to come up with a vision and then work with the Government to try to fund and implement that.”
Official opening of Galway’s new pedestrian and cycle bridge
The new Salmon Weir pedestrian and cycle bridge will be officially opened to the public next Friday, May 26.
Work on the €10 million bridge got underway in April 2022, before the main structure was hoisted into place in early December.
A lunchtime tape-cutting ceremony will take place on Friday, as the first pedestrians and cyclists traverse the as-yet-unnamed bridge.
The Chief Executive of Galway City Council, Brendan McGrath, previously said the bridge, once opened, would remove existing conflicts between pedestrians, cyclists and traffic “as well as facilitating the Cross-City Link public transport corridor over the existing 200-year-old bridge”.
The naming of the new bridge has been under discussion by the Council’s Civic Commemorations Committee since late last year.
One name that has been in the mix for some time is that of the first woman in Europe to graduate with an engineering degree – Alice Perry.
Ms Perry, who was from Wellpark, graduated from Queen’s College Galway (now University of Galway) in 1906. The university’s engineering building is named in her honour.
The bridge was built by Jons Civil Engineering firm in County Meath and was assembled off-site before being transported to Galway. Funding for the project was provided in full by the National Transport Authority and the European Regional Development Fund.
(Photo: Sheila Gallagher captured the city’s new pedestrian footbridge being raised on the south side of the Salmon Weir Bridge in December. It will officially open next Friday, May 26).
Minister branded ‘a disgrace’ for reversing land rezoning in Galway City
From the Galway City Tribune – Minister of State for Local Government and Planning, Kieran O’Donnell was labelled a “disgrace” for overturning councillors’ decisions to rezone land in the new City Development Plan.
Minister O’Donnell (pictured) confirmed in a letter to Council Chief Executive Brendan McGrath last week that he was reversing 25 material alternations made by councillors to the CDP 2023-29. He made the decision on the advice of Office of Planning Regulator (OPR).
Minister O’Donnell directed that 14 land parcels that were subject to land-use zoning changes by councillors as part of the Material Alterations to the Draft CDP should be reversed.
He directed that a further 11 land parcels in the city should become “unzoned”.
The Minister found that the CDP had not been made in a manner consistent with recommendations of the OPR, which required specific changes to the plan to ensure consistency with the national planning laws and guidelines.
At last week’s Council meeting Cllr Eddie Hoare (FG) asked for clarity on the process by which councillors could rezone the lands that had been changed by the Minister’s direction.
Cllr Declan McDonnell said, “What he [Minister O’Donnell] has done is an absolute disgrace”.
And he asked: “Do we have to have another development plan meeting to deal with it?”
Both Cllrs Hoare and McDonnell wondered what would become of the lands that were rezoned or unzoned by the ministerial direction.
Mr McGrath said the Council had put forward an argument in favour of retaining the material alterations in the plan, but ultimately the Minister sided with OPR.
He said if councillors want to make alterations to the new plan, they could go through the process of making a material alteration but this was lengthy.
The Save Roscam Peninsula campaign welcomed the Minister’s decision.
In a statement to the Galway City Tribune, it said the direction would mean the Roscam village area on the Roscam Peninsula will be unzoned and a number of land parcels would revert back to agriculture/high amenity.
A spokesperson for the campaign said: “the material alterations made by city councillors following lobbying by developers continued the long-standing practice of councillors facilitating a developer-led plan rather than an evidence- and policy-based plan that meets the needs of the city.
“The Minister’s direction is an important step in restoring confidence in the planning system. It is clear from the City Council’s own evidence on future housing projections that there was no requirement to zone these lands for residential purposes in order to meet the needs of the targeted population increase up to 2029,” the spokesperson added.