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CITY TRIBUNE

Taxi driver jailed for efforts to groom teenage girl

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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.

CITY TRIBUNE

Mercury hit 30°C for Galway City’s hottest day in 45 years

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune –

Wednesday was the hottest day in the city over the past 45 years when with a high of 30.1 Celsius being recorded at the NUI Galway Weather Station.

The highest temperature ever recorded in the city dates back to June 30, 1976, when the late Frank Gaffney had a reading of 30.5° Celsius at his weather station in Newcastle.

Pharmacists and doctors have reported a surge in people seeking treatment for sunburn.

A Status Yellow ‘high temperature warning’ from Met Éireann – issued on Tuesday – remains in place for Galway and the rest of the country until 9am on Saturday morning.

It will be even hotter in the North Midlands, where a Status Orange temperature warning is in place.

One of the more uncomfortable aspects of our current heatwave has been the above average night-time temperatures and the high humidity levels – presenting sleeping difficulties for a lot of people.
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.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Property Tax hike voted down in Galway City

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – A proposal to boost Galway City Council coffers by half a million euro every year by increasing Local Property Tax (LPT) did not receive the support of city councillors.

Councillor Peter Keane (FF) failed to get a seconder at this week’s local authority meeting for his motion to increase the LPT payable on Galway City houses by 5%.

Cllr Keane said that the increase would net the Council €500,000 every year, which could be spent evenly on services across all three electoral wards.

It would be used to fund services and projects city councillors are always looking for, including a proposal by his colleague Cllr Imelda Byrne for the local authority to hire additional staff for city parks.

The cost to the taxpayer – or property owner – would be minimal, he insisted.

“It would mean that 90% of households would pay 37 cent extra per week,” he said.

Not one of the 17 other elected members, including four party colleagues, would second his motion and so it fell.

Another motion recommending no change in the current rate of LPT in 2022 was passed by a majority.
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.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Galway City Council needs 40 more workers to help deliver on projects

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune –  Forty more workers are needed at City Hall ‘right away’, the Chief Executive of Galway City Council has said.

Brendan McGrath has warned city councillors that the local authority is understaffed and it needs to hire more staff immediately to deliver its plans and projects.

The total cost of the extra 40 workers, including salary, would be between €1.75 million and €1.95 million.

Mr McGrath said that the City Council had a workforce now that was below what it had in 2007, but the city’s population has grown and so too had the services the Council provides.

The population of Galway City grew by almost 11% in the 10 years to 2016, he said, and total staff numbers in the Council fell by 13.6% during that period.

Though more staff were hired in recent years, Mr McGrath said that the Council was at 2007 and 2008 staffing levels, even though the Census will record further increases in population since 2016.

Mr McGrath said that the City Council now provides 1,000 services across a range of departments, far more than during the 2000s.

He said that currently, 524 staff are employed at the City Council. This equated to 493 Whole Time Equivalents when part-time workers such as school wardens and Town Hall workers are included.

Mr McGrath said that 12% of all staff are in acting up positions, with many more in short-term or fixed-term contracts. There was a highly competitive jobs market and the Council was finding recruitment and retention of specialist staff difficult.
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.

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