James, Katie, Jimmy, Breda, Kandy & Shannon O'Donoghue, Christy, Nora, Noreen & Stacey Quilligan, Bridget Burke & Amanda & Crystal O'Reilly
Woodlands Touring Caravan and Camping Park
(Represented by Caoilte O'Connor BL on instruction from
Murphy Ramsey Walsh Solicitors)
Claims in respect of James, Katie, Jimmy, Breda, Kandy and Shannon O'Donoghue, Christy, Nora, Noreen and Stacey Quilligan, Bridget Burke and Amanda and Crystal O'Reilly were referred to the Director of Equality Investigations under the Equal Status Act 2000. In accordance with her powers under section 75 of the Employment Equality Act, the Director then delegated the cases to me, Bernadette Treanor, an Equality Officer, for investigation, hearing and decision and for the exercise of other relevant functions of the Director under Part III of the Equal Status Act.
Summary of the Complainant's case
The complainants arrived at the Caravan Park on Saturday 28th June 2003 after 6pm. They allege that there were some difficulties after arrival and throughout their time there. They were told they could not drink alcohol in the park while other customers were outside their caravans drinking wine. They were stopped drinking even when not causing any difficulties and they were asked to leave on the Sunday morning. They allege that this treatment was because of their membership of the Traveller community. The evidence presented at the hearing was considerably different from that included in their notification to the respondent. The complainants stated orally that they arrived at the park and booked in without incident. Mr. James O'Donoghue senior arrived at the park after the others and drove to them without incident while in the notification it is alleged he was stopped and refused entry. Both James O'Donoghues denied using bad language to the park owner. In the notification this is admitted and apologized for. At the hearing the women stated that they hitched up the caravans themselves while their husbands were away and pulled out of the park around 2pm. In the notification it is stated that they left some time after 6pm when Mr. O'Donoghue met with the park owner.
Summary of the Respondent's Case
The respondent stated that he made the rules of the park clear to the complainants. He denied saying that he would not have let them in if he had known who they were. He stated that the ladies left to go out for the evening but returned without incident. When the men returned, on the other hand, they were loud and aggressive. They disturbed the other customers. He approached them and asked them to stop. They were abusive and used bad language to him but eventually went quiet. They became noisy again almost immediately and the owner called his brother and went to speak to the group again. He did not wish to create a full argument. Eventually he managed to separate them, and take the drinks they had off them. One to one he managed to stop them talking to each other and eventually they went to bed around 4.10am. At 10am he went to the group and spoke to them. He said that because of their behaviour he was refunding their money and asked them to leave by midday. They responded saying that he was only doing that because they were Travellers and that they would get him. He is satisfied that at 10am they all knew they had to leave. The park owner dealt with complaints from other customers from the time the shop opened at 8am. Customers were being annoyed and asked for statements by the complainants. The park lost over €1000 over the disturbance that night. Even though this was a busy time of year the park was left with only the three complainant groups that evening. The group drove in and out all day, leaving the caravans. The whole party left at 2pm and returned at 7pm. The park owner had turned off the electricity to the park as there was nobody else there and this group had been asked to leave. They came back, accused him of being racist and used bad language to him. At 8pm a gentleman in a suit arrived to speak to the complainants and at 8:30pm they hitched up and left. The respondent is of the opinion that the group had breached the park and UDC rules and that he had not breached the Equal Status Act since the men were drunk and disorderly.
Conclusions of the Equality Officer
I am satisfied, and it was accepted by the respondent that the complainants are members of the Traveller community. It is agreed that the complainants were refunded their money and asked to leave on Sunday 29th June 2003. What is in dispute is the reason for the refund and requirement to leave. The complainants argue that it is based only on their membership of the Traveller community. The respondent argues that it was because of the disorderly conduct on the part of the men of the group.
The complainants' evidence as presented at the hearing and that contained in their notification of the incident to the respondent differs in many significant respects. The respondent's version of events is more in tune with the version presented by the complainants in their notification which is a relatively contemporaneous record. However, I am satisfied that the significant differences on evidence presented at the hearing makes their evidence unreliable. I find the respondent's version of events more compelling. On that basis, I am satisfied that some form of disorderly conduct took place on the Saturday night and on that basis I am satisfied that Section 15 (1) provides for the refusal of further service to the complainants on that occasion. On the basis of the evidence presented to me I am satisfied that any disorderly conduct would be handled in a similar manner by the respondent. I find that the complainants were not less favourably treated than non-Travellers would have been in similar circumstances. The complainants have failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination on the Traveller ground.
I find that the complainants have failed to establish a prima facie case on the Traveller ground and therefore this decision is in favour of the respondent.
18th August 2006