Sunday 25 August 2019

'I've had monkey chants, giving the fingers and even people standing in front of the tram' - Luas driver on racist abuse

Luas driver Lanre Bode Olatunji detailed abuse he has suffered at work (Aoife Moore/ PA Wire)
Luas driver Lanre Bode Olatunji detailed abuse he has suffered at work (Aoife Moore/ PA Wire)

Aoife Moore

One of Ireland's first Luas drivers says he has suffered horrific racial abuse from passengers of all ages.

Lanre Bode Olatunji, 42, originally from Nigeria, came to Ireland in 1997 and began his job in 2004 as one of the first round of recruits for the Luas tram system in Dublin.

He said that throughout his 15 years working for Luas, he has had passengers of all ages, male and female, racially abuse him.

"I've had monkey chants, calling names and giving you the fingers and even standing in front of the tram.

"They're giving you all sorts of looks and names, and you see that everywhere, not even at the job, it could be somewhere else," he said.

"To be honest with you I'm kind of used to it, it doesn't bother me any more, I've seen it so many times, and I believe some of them are ignorant. It doesn't really affect me, to be honest, because I'm in the cab, I'm kind of protected somehow.

"It's something we have dealt with even internally, individually, sometimes you just ignore them.

"It doesn't matter how old or young, it's the same.

"The most shocking ones are the times when you see an elderly person insulting you, calling you names. To me that is unbelievable, that's the only time it gets to me.

"I think, 'You're an adult, you should know better. I'm human just like you, I don't have blue blood, I have red just like you'.

"I expect them to be wiser, it's shocking."

Mr Olatunji said that despite the abuse he has never felt unsafe at work, due to the enclosed driver compartments of the trams.

"The way the transport is structured, the drivers are more secluded compared to the CSO who checks the tickets. For me, I'm in the cab, the only time I interact with passengers is when I'm walking out of the tram.

"I believe it's something everybody needs to address, people need to be aware, we all need to get somewhere, and be aware we need to tolerate one another.

"I come to work and I wouldn't expect anyone to be bullying or harassing me while I'm doing my job.

"I think Ireland is getting better every day, it's different from when I first came here, and there has been a lot of improvement which I'm very proud of, and I love my job. The best thing is the scenery, driving through the city, I love that."

Mr Olatunji was speaking at the launch of a new anti-racism campaign on Ireland's public transport.

More than 900 commuters donated their selfies to the cause, and the images were used to create artwork for the new advertising campaign, which will be displayed on the livery of Dublin Bus and other services.

The campaign involving Dublin Bus, Iarnrod Eireann, Bus Eireann, Transdev, Go-Ahead Ireland, Local Link bus services and the taxi sector, which also ran last year, faced criticism at the launch when it emerged that some of the transport providers involved do not record racist incidents, raising questions about the substance of the campaign.

It was flagged by the Immigrant Council that a better recording mechanism across companies and relevant stakeholders like the Garda should be implemented as the scale of the problem in Ireland is unknown.

Anne Graham, chief of the National Transport Authority (NTA), said the campaign was necessary due to under-reporting.

"It's not just about promoting anti-racism its about celebrating the diversity of the staff who work in public transport, and a reminder to customers that they should respect their drivers," she said.

"What we're trying to do is build on the campaign each year and stand with anyone who has been abused, and encourage people to report incidents.

"At least then it's recorded as an incident, and we'd encourage drivers to report it to their employers."

Irish Rail said it has recorded 12 incidents since last year.

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