A taxi driver has been sentenced to two years in prison with the final year suspended for sexually assaulting a schoolgirl in his car.
Father of four, Toni Muzinga (48), of Cartur Mór, Clybaun Road, told the 16-year-old she should keep secrets from her mother, before offering her money and a new phone if she went with him to Oranmore where no one would see them.
Muzinga pleaded guilty before Galway Circuit Criminal Court last December to sexually assaulting the girl on February 16 last year.
Sentence was adjourned to last week for the preparation of a victim impact statement.
Garda Neil Lydon said Muzinga knew the victim since she was a child and on the date in question he saw her in Eyre Square and offered her a lift home. She got into the back of his taxi but on the way home she became uneasy due to the nature of his comments to her.
He told her she should keep secrets from her mother and her mother didn’t have to know everything she was doing.
He asked for her number and started making arrangements to meet her, telling her to keep that information from her mother. He offered her money and a new phone. He told her he would give her lots of things that her mother could not afford to give her and she was to keep them a secret from her mother.
Muzinga offered to bring the girl to Oranmore where they would not be seen. He then put his hand back and groped her. He asked her to kiss him before letting her out of the taxi.
The girl told her mother what had happened and they went to Gardaí.
The girl told Garda Lydon she was shocked and stunned and “just froze” when the assault happened.
Garda Lydon said Muzinga knew the girl’s family for many years through mutual friends.
He was interviewed and admitted picking the girl up in Eyre Square.
However, he denied sexually assaulting her, saying that he accidentally touched her while opening the door to let her out.
Garda Lydon confirmed Muzinga had nine previous convictions, including one for handling stolen property, while the rest were for traffic offences.
Defence barrister, Aisling Wall, said her client was a widower since his wife died suddenly ten years ago. The couple had come to Ireland in 2001 and were granted asylum. He had always worked and was the sole carer for his children as his extended family still lived in DR Congo.
She said Muzinga could offer no explanation for what he did but he was sorry and had brought €2,000 to court to offer to the victim.
He had to surrender his taxi licence last December and could no longer work.
His actions, she said, had a detrimental impact on his own children as well as the victim.
The girl told the court she had been a happy-go-lucky girl before this incident, but she was now more cautious and wary of people, especially men.
“I knew this man well since I was five years old. I felt I could trust him when he offered me a lift home but instead, he took advantage of my innocence. I no longer feel safe around older men.
“My mother is extremely upset that a family friend would abuse her trust in this way.
“Rumours were put out, too, that it was me who led this man on and caused the whole situation. They also said I was pregnant. These rumours are false and they have weighed heavily on me and I’m still attending a counsellor,” the girl told the court.
Ms Wall said Muzinga accepted the consequences of his actions had been enormous for the victim.
She said Muzinga’s pastor from the Presbyterian and Methodist Church, was present in court to support him.
“She (Pastor) has been an enormous support to him and his family. She thinks very highly of him and is here to support him today.
“She has given him a very good reference and speaks of him being a very trustworthy member of the community,” Ms Wall added.
She said Muzinga was very concerned about what might happen to his children if he received a custodial sentence and that they might have to go into foster care.
Judge Rory McCabe said the maximum sentence for sexual assault was ten years.
He said Muzinga planned this offence and had the young victim not been so alert it may well have been the first step on a journey to ‘grooming’.
Whatever plan Muzinga had in mind did not succeed thanks to the girl’s proper conduct and quick and decisive action in telling her mother, the judge said.
Thanks to the girl’s decisive action, the offence did not go any further and as a result it could be placed at the lower end on the scale of gravity for similar offences.
He said Muzinga tried to minimise the offence to Gardaí and it was “disturbing and worrying” that there was no explanation given for his behaviour.
“The testimonials handed in paint a different picture to the sex offender before the court and the gravity must be marked with a custodial sentence,” Judge McCabe said.
He imposed two years in prison and suspended the final year for five years.
He deferred commencement of the sentence until May 1, to give Muzinga time to make arrangements for his children.
The deferral was granted on condition Muzinga surrender his passport straight away and undertake to surrender himself to the authorities at 12 noon on May 1.
A woman, believed to be Muzinga’s partner, hung onto him as he was being led away by prison officers. She screamed outside the courtroom and threw herself on the floor crying as he was led downstairs to the cells.
A short time later, Muzinga was released from custody after his passport was handed over to Gardaí. He has been placed on the Sex Offender’s Register.
Brave Holly’s battle against leukaemia
A keen young camogie player from Knocknacarra diagnosed with leukaemia at the start of the first lockdown has now learned that she has lost her sight in one eye due to a rare complication.
Holly McAlinney was the picture of health at age seven. Her mother Sharon remembers the day schools were closed last March that her teacher had remarked that Holly had difficulty hearing in class.
She took her to the GP, thinking it was an ear infection and then her jaw swelled up so she thought it may have been her adenoids acting up. When medication did nothing to relieve the symptoms, they sent off a blood test.
“I went to the doctor with her on my own, you were only allowed one parent in at a time. They asked if I could call my husband so I knew things were bad. They confirmed it was leukaemia on a Wednesday and on the Monday we were in Crumlin Children’s Hospital getting chemotherapy – that’s how quickly it’s all been.”
Holly is now in the middle of her fourth round of chemo, which she undergoes weekly one day a week in the Dublin hospital. When she finishes this, she will have a fifth round given over two years to ensure the cancer doesn’t return.
Her medical team are extremely positive about her prospects. There is currently a 98 per cent survival rate with leukaemia, which is of course a huge relief to family and friends.
But things haven’t gone plain sailing throughout the treatment. Holly developed ulcers on her duodenum which left her in intensive care for a spell. And then last week, the family learned that the leukaemia had infiltrated her left eye, leaving a gap which could result in permanent blindness.
“We’re seeing a specialist in University Hospital Galway (UHG) next week but we don’t hold out much hope the sight will come back. Holly’s the most upbeat of all of us because she’s so young – she can’t see the repercussions into the future.
“That’s the way she’s been throughout the treatment. The first two rounds were heavy and the third quite light so she bounced right back. She was in school September and October, you wouldn’t know she was sick, and we felt she was safe because everything was so clean and with all the bubbles.
“It was right back down with the fourth round which was the heaviest so she can’t go see anyone just her brother – it’s heart-breaking.”
Her school friends have been keeping in touch by sending videos and cards to Holly to cheer her up.
While camogie and swimming will be out of the occasion for the foreseeable future, Sharon is confident they can find other hobbies that will enthral Holly, who is a very sociable and sporty girl. Sharon trains Holly with the U-8 camogie team with Salthill-Knocknacarra GAA.
The frequent trips to Dublin and hospital appointments has meant that Sharon has had to give up her job working in the Little Stars Montessori on the Cappagh Road, where son Alex still attends afterschool. Dad Rob works as an alarm engineer.
New mothers that Sharon met in Holly’s parent and baby group in Knocknacarra have organised a fundraiser to help the family get through the financial stress of coping with cancer.
They are planning a hike on December 6 at Diamond Hill, Connemara and have already raised €16,000 in donations.
“Rob and I are both from Salthill, but it’s been amazing the amount of people we wouldn’t have heard or seen in years who have contacted us to offer support. It’s only when you’re in trouble that you realise how good people can be.”
■ To make a donation, log on to GoFundMe
Proposals to change speed limits in Galway City are voted down
From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Planned speed limit changes for Galway City are stuck in the slow lane after councillors rejected a proposal for new bylaws.
The bylaws would have introduced a 30km/h zone in the city centre and 19 other changes, including increased speed limits in areas such as Bóthar na dTreabh to 80km/h.
Management at City Hall have now been sent back to the drawing board to draft new speed limit bylaws after a majority of elected members voted against them – it could at least two years before new proposals are ready.
At a meeting this week, several councillors spoke out against plans to increase speed limits to 80km/h on approach roads into the city.
Many of them criticised the system of selecting roads for speed limit changes, lashed the public consultation process and decried the lack of input from councillors, despite speed limits being a reserved function of elected members.
Councillors were particularly peeved that the proposal had to be accepted in its entirety, without amendments, or rejected outright – they could not pick and choose individual changes.
Deputy Mayor Collette Connolly (Ind) led the charge against the bylaws, which she described as “idiotic”.
She lambasted the “incomprehensible decision” not to lower speed limits to 30km/h outside schools and she said it was “utter raiméis” (nonsense) that speeds can’t be lowered to 30km/h, if 85% of the traffic on that road travels at 50km/h.
Cllr Connolly said the bylaws were “flawed”, and cited the decision to leave Rahoon Road/Shantalla Road at 50km/h, despite a crèche and two schools on other roads like Lough Atalia remaining at 30km/h.
(Photo: A speed van on Bóthar na dTreabh on Thursday morning)
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, including how each councillor voted and a map of the proposed changes, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.
Corrib to be opened up as new tourism and leisure blueway
From this week’s Galway City Tribune – The first steps are to be taken next year to explore the development of a ‘blueway’ tourism and leisure trail along the River Corrib, from Nimmo’s Pier and onto the lake itself.
This week, Galway City Council Chief Executive, Brendan McGrath, confirmed to the Galway City Tribune, that monies had been set aside to begin exploratory work on what will be known as the Great Western Blueway.
A figure of €65,000 has been allocated in the City Council’s 2021 annual budget to commission an initial study of what’s involved in the setting up a blueway trail on the Corrib.
“The Corrib river and the lake are a most wonderful natural asset for the entire western region and I have no doubt that this project has fantastic potential in terms of enhancing the tourism pulling power of the city and its environs,” Mr McGrath told the Galway City Tribune this week.
Should the project come to fruition, it would be the fifth such waterway attraction to be developed in the island of Ireland.
Already there are Blueways on the Shannon, from Drumshanbo to Lanesboro; the Shannon-Erne project from Leitrim village to Belturbet (Cavan); the Royal Canal at Mullingar; and at Lough Derg from Portumna to Scariff in Clare.
According to Mr McGrath, the attractions developed along the Great Western Blueway would be environmentally friendly, featuring such attractions as kayaking, paddling, adjacent cycle trails as well as scenic walkways and visitor centres.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.