'People were saying I should be deported' - Student who brought €75k defamation claim says he regularly suffers racial abuse
'I’ve had it a couple of times on the Luas, whether it’s people under the influence saying things to me or on the way home on nights out'
The president of Maynooth Students' Union, who took a defamation case against the Luas operators over alleged “racial profiling”, says he has been regularly subjected to racial slurs while growing up in Ireland.
Leon Diop (23) of Ashgrove, Springfield, Tallaght, Co Dublin, sued Transdev, who operate the Luas, as well as the company that provides its security personnel after two security men gestured for him and his brother to leave the tram, despite showing valid travel tickets.
Mr Diop and his brother were allowed to remain on the tram, but he claimed one of the security staff videoed them as they were being spoken to.
He said they were asked to produce tickets after other black youths had exited the tram, arguing this was "slightly racial profiling".
On Thursday, the defamation action was dismissed by a judge, who said that while the gesture may have been defamatory on its face, it is protected by qualified privilege, adding that racial profiling is not a tort [a wrong] in law.
Speaking to Independent.ie after the decision, Leon insists there are major issues with racism in Ireland and this is something he has been subjected to on many occasions.
"If you speak to any black person or mixed race person, they’ll have at least one incident like this," he said.
When he first took the case it spurred a lot of racially-charged comments on social media.
“People were commenting online saying I should be deported. People were forming opinions without knowing the facts," he says.
“On social media sites there were comments all about how I was this person from a different country trying to scam the state or scam companies for money.
“I was born and reared here. My mam is Irish,” he says.
“I’ve never even been to Africa”.
He recalled another experience he had at a GAA match when he was in secondary school which particularly stood out.
“One of the first big times I was subjected to it was playing a GAA match. I hit someone in a tackle and they turned around and said a really nasty racial slur at me. I wouldn’t even want to repeat it now,” he says.
“I was only 14 at the time”.
He also claims he was subjected to racial abuse while running for SU president, alleging that a student used the 'N' word in a text message
It was incidents like this that encouraged him to take the case against the Luas operators, Mr Diop said.
“I’ve had it a couple of times on the Luas, whether it’s people under the influence saying things to me or on the way home on nights out,” he says.
Leon grew up in Tallaght with his mother. His father, who was from Senegal, passed away several years ago.
He said he felt “let down” by the verdict in the case but that it would not deter him for standing up against those who try to insult him because of the colour of his skin.
“When things like that happen it’s hard to take," said Leon, who will return for a second year as SU president in September.
“I’m disappointed but I’m not going to let this deter me. I am proud of myself for standing up for my brother and I and I would do it all again if I had to."