‘Get out of the cab or we will kill you’: Driver of bus set on fire in Dublin recounts incident

Members of public intervened to rescue driver of bus hijacked near O’Connell Street

The driver forced from his bus on Dublin’s O’Connell Bridge on Thursday evening before it was set on fire by rioters had been completely unaware of the events leading up to him being targeted. He spent much of the attack he was subjected to trying to figure out what was going on, he said.

The first Sailesh Tupsy – originally from Mauritius but who moved here 15 years ago – knew of any trouble in Dublin’s city centre was when he stopped at traffic lights on Bachelors Walk and saw a Garda car on fire.

“I saw it burning and realised something had gone wrong here but I didn’t know anything more. I was trying to figure it out.

“When there was a green light I started to turn onto O’Connell Bridge but I was driving very slowly and then two young lads came in front of me on scooters. They stopped in front of the bus and started banging on the windscreen. I didn’t know what they were saying to me at first because they were outside but then while I was stopped there other people opened the front and side doors. People came on and started shouting at me. They started shouting, “What are you doing here?’”.


At that stage, he was, he acknowledges, concerned for his safety as “one guy threw a punch at me (hitting him in the face) and others were shouting, ‘What do you think you are doing here?’ I didn’t know what they meant. I was trying to understand what was going on. I was thinking…‘what are they trying to say?” But I didn’t know what had happened.

“I was in my cab and I put my screen protection up while I was trying to get in contact with control but nobody was answering,” he said. At the same time, there were about “10 guys” who got on the bus and one man, aged over 30, standing in front of the bus. “He had stayed there, shouting to get out. They opened the bus door again. There was a group of them and they said: ‘Get out of the bus; Get out of the cab or we will kill you.’

“So I said: ‘Listen guys, I am out. I put both my hands out, I just wanted to save myself and I saw a tall guy standing in the corner. He said to come over, he would get me out. So I grabbed my bag and walked straight to him. He grabbed me and walked me out,” he recalled.

“He walked me to the next lights where there were three garda. I started to tell them what had happened but they were under pressure and they just told me to get out. I didn’t know what to do and I called the garage and they said to leave the bus, to make sure I was safe.”

In the end, he started walking back to his garage before a passing bus picked him up and brought him the rest of the way.

A day on, he was still “trying to process what had happened.” His Dublin Bus supervisors have, he said, been sympathetic, telling him to take time off while officials from his union, Siptu, had also been in touch.

I’m okay,” he said on Friday. “I have some bruising on my face where I was punched. It still feels strange, though. I am still just trying to process it all.”

Dermot O’Leary of the National Bus and Rail Union said on Friday, migrant drivers on Dublin Bus and other parts of the public transport system are “in fear” after the events of Thursday evening.

He said members of the public intervened on behalf of the driver of the bus that was hijacked near O’Connell Street and he was able to escape unhurt.

“Thankfully there were sensible passersby who told the others to leave him alone,” he said.

Other drivers became fearful as the evening progressed and while he credited Dublin Bus with doing their best to manage the situation, partly through diversions, “it got to the point where we said enough is enough and told our members they would stop working” he said.

“The reality is that most of the routes cross the city and it’s no surprise that many of them use the main thoroughfare which is O’Connell Street. We have lots of protocols for dealing with anti-social behaviour in different parts of the city and you can divert buses away from housing estates when you need to but it’s not straightforward to do it in terms of the city centre, especially when part of it is like a warzone.”

Mr O’Leary added: “We have 85 or 90 nationalities working across the public transport sector, in Dublin Bus and beyond, and obviously a lot of these people are in fear. I’m told anecdotally that taxi drivers are in the same situation.”

Geoff McEvoy, a Siptu organiser representing members of the Dublin Fire Brigade, described efforts to stop fire crews doing their job on Thursday as “uncharted territory” and said it was essential that members of the service are protected while they work.

He said one of the appliances that was first on the scene of the original knife attack at Parnell Square is off the road on Friday and out of service after it was targeted by rioters when it later sought to attend the scene of a Garda car that was on fire.

“That truck, which is based in Phibsborough, was one of the first to reach Parnell Square and the crew, who are all trained paramedics, helped give treatment to the victims of the attack.

“At 6pm the shift changed the next crew on that truck was called to a refugee centre that was reported to have been fire-bombed.

“I say a refugee centre but there were no refugees there, just a security guard who was able to get out safely, but it was a building that people knew was earmarked to house refugees and there was a crowd there who were heckling the crew, throwing things at them as they sought to put the fire out, shouting ‘leave it’ and ‘let them burn.’”

He said the crew was then called to the burning Garda car but ultimately had to turn back and return to the station.

“As they were trying to get to that incident they were impeded by a mob who were throwing things at the truck and as it was being held up they were taking things off the truck.”

He said the crew reported scuffles between members of the crowd as some sought to stop others from taking equipment but that a number of things were lost.

“It got to the stage where that truck could not get through and had to return to its station and so for the rest of the night and today, that truck is off the run, it’s unavailable because of the damage it has sustained. No crew would ever turn back from a call like that unless they believed they were in danger and it was only later, when the gardaí made the scene safe, that another truck was able to get there.”

Irish Congress of Trade Unions General Secretary Owen Reidy paid tribute to all members of the emergency services and transport workers who had to cope with the violence on Thursday evening and said the organisation was calling on the people of Dublin to demonstrate their rejection of the violence at a protest on Monday at 1pm at the GPO.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times