A video clip which shows a 47-year-old man being racially abusive and insulting towards a young black woman on a college campus, has racked up 1.4 million views on Twitter since it was uploaded to social media on the day of the encounter.
The victim told Galway District Court this week she was hurt by the racially-motivated incident - which occurred in broad daylight near a scenic riverbank at NUI, Galway - as she considered herself Irish, having been born and raised in this country.
Oliver Taheny, 100 An Reilean, Roscam, Galway, was sentenced to three months in prison for engaging in threatening, abusive and insulting words or behaviour with intent to provoke a breach of the peace, or being reckless as to whether a breach of the peace might have been occasioned, at NUIG, Newcastle, Galway, on August 12, 2020.
He had denied the charge. He also denied a separate charge of being intoxicated in a public place at Millplot, Oranmore, on June 24, 2002, but he did plead guilty to a similar charge of being intoxicated in public at Dominick Street, Galway, on November 21, 2020.
The young woman gave evidence she was walking with a friend along a footpath when a man, who was walking in the opposite direction on an adjacent footpath, started screaming racial slurs at her. She said that by the third time he said the slurs, she started recording everything on her phone.
There had been no interaction between them beforehand, she said. The girl said she went to the Garda station in Cork three days later, gave a statement and showed gardaí the video.
Defence counsel, Keith Concannon BL, told the woman his client wanted to offer a sincere apology to her for his choice of language on the day, but noted her friend who had been with her had declined to make a statement, as did a male cyclist who had witnessed the incident.
The woman said her friend did not want to get involved and she did not know the cyclist, who just happened to be passing by at the time.
Mr Concannon said it was 5.45p.m. and the incident occurred on the walkway down by the river. He said Taheny had been sitting on a rock drinking a can of Guinness. The woman disagreed. She said she and her friend were walking on one footpath and Taheny was walking in the opposite direction on another footpath.
She denied a suggestion there had been an interaction between them before he started shouting racial slurs at her. Mr Concannon said his client would say she had called him a “drunken Paddy” when she saw him drinking while sitting on the rock.
“His assertion that you called him ‘a drunk Paddy’ also has racial connotations. "You would accept Galway is a multi-cultural city and he was not just waiting around to racially abuse someone,” Mr Concannon put to the witness.
He asked her if there was any particular reason why she had started recording the incident.
Mr Concannon said she had uploaded the video to social media and it had hundreds of thousands of views since that day.
He then asked why had she waited three days to go to the gardaí. She said she had discussed it with her parents and they had pushed her to make a complaint which she did in Cork. The video was then shown to the court.
It showed Taheny walking past the victim, calling her a “f**kin’ n*****" on several occasions. He also shouts: “Go back to your own country”.
The woman can be heard asking Taheny on several occasions “What are you saying?” and on each occasion he replied with slurs. The woman can be heard telling him she was born in Ireland, but he continues to use the ’N’ word and shout at her to go back to her own country, before walking off.
Garda Owen O’Donnell gave evidence he was initially informed by security staff at NUIG about the incident and was later contacted by gardaí in Cork. He said he received a statement of complaint on August 20, which the woman had made to his colleagues in Cork on August 15.
He said he identified Taheny, whom he already knew, from the video clip which the woman gave him.
Garda O’Donnell took a statement from Taheny the following November which read: “On August 12, 2020, I was at NUIG, sitting on a rock on the river bank drinking cans of Guinness.
"I didn’t know she was recording it. My friend had died and I was thinking of other things. I apologise for using profanities.” Garda O’Donnell explained the DPP had directed Taheny be prosecuted for breaching the peace.
Mr Concannon said his client had used alcohol as a coping mechanism down through the years, but he had committed no offences since this date and was now engaging with the Simon Community and abstaining from alcohol at the moment. His support worker had come to court with him, he added.
“He feels he is being wronged. I have impressed on him the grim view the court takes on that, but he feels aggrieved and has done so for a long time. He is making strides to improve his life. This is a rather regrettable set of circumstances,” counsel said.
Judge Fahy agreed it was regrettable, but the evidence presented to the court was incontrovertible. Convicting Taheny of breaching the peace, Judge Fahy said she had not heard of the video being circulated on social media as she did not use social media "because of her job” and she was basing her judgement solely on the evidence before the court.
Mr Concannon said his client had already been convicted “in the court of public opinion”. Judge Fahy said that had nothing to do with her court.
She then asked the victim if the incident had adversely affected her in any way. “I kind of felt like I wasn’t Irish, even though I was born and raised here and involved in the culture. I was hurt,” the woman said.
Inspector Finbarr Philpott, prosecuting, said Taheny had 68 previous convictions, including 19 for breaching the peace, 24 for being intoxicated in public, three for thefts, seven for failing to appear in court and others for obstructing Gardaí.
In reply to Judge Fahy, Mr Concannon said his client had just got housing and hoped to get employment. “He has had a hard life and has engaged with the homeless services for the last 20 years,” counsel said.
“His stance in the video is one of total aggression, even his stance in court is one of total aggression,” the judge observed before sentencing Taheny to three months in prison.
She also fined him €100 for each of the intoxicated in public charges and granted leave to appeal.
Judge Fahy told Insp. Philpott the witness should be told her witness expenses, if any, would be paid by the State because Taheny was in receipt of homeless services.