By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Gardai have admitted they made a mistake when granting a license to drive a taxi to the man who was at the center of a sex-assault case in 1992 that resulted in the landmark "X Case" abortion judgment by the Supreme Court.
The man, who is in his 50s and has never been identified, is now the subject of further allegations of sexual assault by a 14-year-old passenger in his taxi.
The X Case dominated the headlines seven years ago when a 14-year-old girl became pregnant by the man, who was a neighbor.
The State stepped in to secure a High Court injunction to stop her traveling to Britain for an abortion. The order was overturned on appeal to the Supreme Court.
It ruled that abortion was legal in circumstances where there was a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother, including the risk that she would commit suicide if the pregnancy continued.
Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter
The implications of the judgment have been vigorously debated since. Anti-abortionists have begun a high-profile campaign for new legal protection for the unborn since a government discussion paper was published earlier this month.
Pro-life groups say the Supreme Court ruling watered down a 1983 constitutional amendment they had fought for. It promised to defend the right to life of the unborn with "due regard to the right to life of the mother."
Since abortion was legalized in Britain in 1967, at least 95,000 Irish women have had their pregnancies terminated there.
The X Case man was charged in connection with the offense and was sentenced to 14 years in 1995. The sentence was reduced on appeal to four years and he was freed in 1997.
Gardai say he applied for and was granted a taxi driving license in September 1999.
"That was because we had failed to connect the conviction to himself in the original application," a spokesman said. The mistake was due to his change of address.
Gardai have also revealed that in July 1998 a member of the force had recognized the X Case man driving a taxi and he had been brought in and interviewed.
"As a result of the meeting and that he had been driving a taxi for about 12 months and hadn’t come under unfavorable notice, the decision was made that he should continue holding the license," the spokesman said.
Gardai said the fact that a license applicant had a criminal record did not preclude them from getting one and that people have a constitutional right to earn a living and Garda had the discretion to grant a license after taking into account all the circumstances involved. The spokesman was unable to say if the license would have been granted if they had originally known of the conviction.
Following the new allegations, Gardai are reviewing the X Case man’s license again this week.
The latest allegations are understood to involve claims that he made lewd suggestions to the girl and twice tried to assault her in the taxi. She claims she escaped when he drove into a secluded road.
The matter has caused widespread disquiet with Fine Gael’s Alan Shatter describing it as "scandalous" that women should be a risk in taxis from convicted sex offenders.