Michael Connors and John Wall
(represented by the Tallaght Travellers CDP)
The Firhouse Inn,
(represented by Brian Morton & Co, Solicitors
Equal Status Act 2000 - Direct discrimination, section 3(1)(a) - Membership of the Traveller community, section 3(2)(i) - Supply of goods and services, section 5(1) - Refusal of service in a pub
This dispute concerns a complaint by Michael Connors and John Wall that they were discriminated against, contrary to the Equal Status Act 2000, by the management of the Firhouse Inn, Dublin.
The complainants maintain that they were discriminated against on the Traveller community ground in terms of sections 3(1), 3(1)(b) and 3(2)(i) of the Equal Status Act 2000 in not being provided with a service which is generally available to the public contrary to Section 5(1) of the Act.
Summary of the Complainants' Case
At the Hearing of this complaint on 18 October 2006, John Wall explained that his co-complainant Michael Connors who was his uncle, was now deceased.
John Wall lived in Bray at the time and used to visit his uncle in Tallaght regularly around the time of this incident on 16 May 2002. Mr Wall said that his current address is 2 Woodlands View, Arklow.
On the occasions he visited his uncle, they often went to the Firhouse Inn for a drink and Mr Wall would stay the night in his uncle's house.
Mr Wall said that his uncle and himself never had a problem getting served in the Firhouse Inn prior to 16 May 2002.
When they arrived on 16 May 2002, Mr Wall went to the bar for a drink but the barman who usually served them informed him that he was not serving him that night. When Mr Wall asked for a reason, the barman said something about "Section 2 of the Act". No further explanation was offered. The two men then left the pub and never returned after that. Mr Connors subsequently died in 2004.
At the Hearing, the respondents stated that the barman in question no longer worked for them and that they had been unable to persuade him to come to the Hearing.
Mr Harry Quinn, the Bar Manager, said that he had been on duty that night and that the refusal occurred while he was on a break. He recalls the barman telling him after his break that he had refused two gentlemen who had been "associated with the St Patrick's Day incident".
Mr Quinn explained that there had been a very serious disturbance in the pub involving a lot of Travellers on 17 March 2002 and the Gardai had to be called to break things up. One man was charged in court over the incident. The respondents said that they had retained video footage of the incident and offered to admit it in evidence.
Mr Quinn said that it was his understanding that the barman recognised the two complainants from St Patrick's Day and that was the reason he refused them service.
In response, Mr Wall said that he could not have been in the Firhouse Inn on St Patricks Day as he was in Bray that day with his uncle. Mr Wall explained that it was their custom each year for the uncle to stay with him every St Patrick's Day to facilitate their attendance at the Wicklow Town St Patrick's Day parade.
At the end of the Hearing, it was agreed that everyone would meet the next morning in the Firhouse Inn to view the video recording of the incident on St Patrick's Day. Mr Wall was asked to bring a photo of his late uncle to see whether he was identifiable from the video.
On 19 October 2006, I met Mr Wall and the respondents at the Firhouse Inn and we viewed the CCTV video of the incident on St Patrick's Day 2002.
The video was of a high quality and initially showed a barman asking a group of people, who appeared to have had a lot to drink, to leave the pub. The video showed them making for the door but, instead of leaving, some continued to "loiter" at the end of the bar. It then appears that several of the group returned to a high table in the centre of the lounge area.
A few minutes later, one male member of the group is seen attacking another male member of the group and dragging him from his stool. In the skirmish that followed, they both collided with a different group of people who were sitting around an adjacent high table. I could see no evidence of a connection between the two groups of people from the video.
After that, all the customers moved back from the tables and the two men engaged in further threatening behaviour towards each other. At that point, the Gardai arrived and took them away.
The video of the incident itself was viewed several times but there was no evidence of anyone resembling Mr Wall or his uncle in the footage.
Conclusions of the Equality Officer
Prima facie case
In cases under the Equal Status Acts, the onus is on the complainant to provide evidence establishing a prima facie case and it is essential, in the interests of natural justice and fair procedures, that such evidence is provided in the presence of the respondents to afford them the opportunity to challenge any allegations made against them.
As already indicated, one of the complainants in this case is now deceased and, therefore, unable to give evidence. Accordingly, it has not been possible for Michael Connors to establish a prima facie case against the respondents.
In the case of John Wall, I am satisfied from his evidence that he has established a prima facie case of discrimination on the Traveller community ground putting the onus on the respondents to rebut the allegation. In an attempt to rebut the allegation of discrimination, the respondents maintain that the barman on the night was relying on Section 15(2) of the Equal Status Acts which states that
"Action taken in good faith by or on behalf of the holder of a
licence or other authorisation which permits the sale of intoxicating
liquor, for the sole purpose of ensuring compliance with the provisions
of the Licensing Acts, 1833 to 1999, shall not constitute discrimination."
Of primary importance in this case is the fact that the barman in question was not available to give direct evidence at the Hearing with regard to the events of 16 May 2002. As a result, I have only been provided with hearsay evidence as to the reason for the barman's refusal to provide service. If the barman had been available to give direct evidence himself, I would have had the opportunity to question him about 16 May 2002. In so doing, I would have been able to form my own opinion as to whether, on the balance of probability, I felt that he genuinely believed that the two complainants had been involved in the incident on 17 March 2002 or whether he decided to refuse them service simply because he recognised them as Travellers.
As I was not afforded this opportunity to question the barman, I find that there is insufficient evidence before me to satisfy me that the barman had a genuine non-discriminatory reason for the refusal of service on 16 May 2002.
Accordingly, I find that John Wall has established a prima facie case of discrimination on the Traveller community ground and the respondents have failed to rebut the allegation.
I find that a prima facie case of discrimination on the Traveller community ground has not been established on behalf of the late Michael Connors in terms of sections 3(1), and 3(2)(i) of the Equal Status Acts 2000-2004 in relation to the events of 16 May 2002.
find that John Wall has established a prima facie case of discrimination on the Traveller community ground in terms of sections 3(1), and 3(2)(i) of the Equal Status Act 2000 in relation to the events of 16 May 2002. I also find that the respondents have failed to rebut the allegation.
In considering the level of redress to award, I am cognisant of the fact that the complainants were served previously on a regular basis in the Firhouse Inn prior to 16 May 2002 and that there is no evidence that the pub practises a deliberate policy of discrimination against Travelers.
However, I consider that, as a consequence of the serious incident on 17 March 2002, that some barmen may have adopted a more "hardline" attitude towards Travellers for a short time thereafter and that it was this attitude that led to the two complainants, who would appear to have been totally innocent of any wrongdoing, being refused service on 16 May 2002.
As I believe that this incident was an unfortunate once-off act, I do not consider that a heavy penalty is warranted in this case. Accordingly, I order that John Wall, be paid redress of €300 for the hurt, humiliation and loss of amenity suffered on 16 May 2002 and thereafter.
15 January 2007