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Dublin: 9°C Wednesday 20 October 2021

Funeral home refused to look after the body of 14-year-old Traveller

The family of the teenager have been awarded more than €6,000 in compensation.


Updated 10am

A TRAVELLER FAMILY has been awarded over €6,000 after a funeral home refused to allow their late son repose there.

The decision was made by the Equality Tribunal in the case of Anne Joyce ­v­ Michael Ryan Funeral Directors.

The full decision can be read here.

The grounds were discrimination under section 3(2)(i), Travelling Community, provision of a service, section 5(1).

The family were awarded €6,384 in compensation, the maximum sum allowable under the acts.

Ann Joyce, the mother of the late Aaron Joyce, said in a statement released by Pavee Point, that her sole aim “was to regain some dignity and respect for my son”.

This was never about money and we have decided that if the payment is received we will donate it to the Make A Wish Foundation. We know that this is something Aaron would have wanted.

She added: “Hopefully we can send a very clear message to any service provider that discrimination is wrong and will not be accepted. I would encourage any Traveller who experiences discrimination to use the processes available to combat it.”

Pavee Point Director Martin Collins said:

This case is a reminder, if one was needed, of the systemic, institutional racism experienced by my community in Irish society.

In an interview with the Irish Daily Mail yesterday, Ann Joyce, said that her son had congenital liver disease and died at the age of 14 on Christmas Eve in 2011.

The details

Joyce told the Equality Tribunal that in December 2011 her sister was arranging the funeral of Aaron, and engaged a company well known to the family to arrange the funeral.

She said that on 28 December 2011 her sister went to this funeral directors’ premises in Dublin to talk to ‘Representative A’ about the family requirements for the funeral and wake.

This included that Aaron be waked in Ashbourne, close to the cemetery where he was to be buried. This company didn’t have a premises in Ashbourne so went to identify a funeral director in Ashbourne.

Joyce said that Representative A was told by Mr Ryan over the phone that a room would be made available for the wake.

 The complaint submits that her sister, who was present in the office during the call, then left believing that the wake was to take place in the respondent’s premises. However, the complainant submits that, about half an hour after the first call, Mr Ryan called representative A to say that he would not make the room available and that the local parish priest had a problem with the funeral.

She also said that her sister wasn’t aware of this and went to the Ryan funeral home the next day, where an unidentified person invited her in to have a chat.

She said that at some point this person took a phone call and became aware that her family were members of the Travelling community, and she was then ushered out of the office.

Other arrangements were made for the wake but the family said that many friends and family were unable to attend, because it did not take place in Ashbourne.

The funeral home’s response

In its submission, the respondent, Michael Ryan Funeral Directors, denied that they refused to allow the complainant access to the premises on the basis that she is a member of the Travelling community.

He said he has no prejudice against the Travelling community and that it was never his intention to exacerbate the family’s grief.

The respondent submits that no request for a service was actually made to the respondent by a member of the Travelling community. The respondent submits that any request took place in the in the context of a commercial proposal between two people acting in the course of their business, neither one being the member of the Travelling community.

He also disputed the evidence given by Representative A, but said that at no point did Representative A mention that Aaron Joyce was a Traveller.

The respondent submits that his reasons for refusing to provide a service are as follows: that it is not his practice to hire or rent out his funeral home to any person or funeral director [and] that he only deals with funerals that he is personally charged with

Decision welcomed

The Equality Officer involved said that the issue of whether Michael Ryan Funeral Directors agreed to provide a service is based on what transpired over two or three phone calls.

He said Ryan’s accounts of the phone calls “was not consistent”. He also said:

During the hearing when asked if he knew if the complaint was a member of the Travelling community, the respondent offered the statement that “ everyone knows the Joyce family are Travellers”. I must conclude that the respondent believed that the complaint was a member of the Travelling community as soon as her was provided with her name during the call to the parish priest.

He continued:

I found the complainant, her sister and the Representative A all to be credible witnesses and I believe Representative A’s assertion that the respondent agreed initially to provide a service. As I find the respondent had agreed to provide a service, his arguments that he would not do so on the commercial grounds presented are moot. Accordingly, the complainant is entitled to succeed in her complaint.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Designate (IHREC Designate) said that it welcomes the decision of the Equality Tribunal to award the Joyce family compensation under the Equal Status Acts.

Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Designate, said that the fact the Equality Tribunal awarded the maximum compensation possible under the Equal Status Acts “recognised the extreme distress caused to the family at a time of grief”.

“The case highlights that discrimination continues to be experienced by Travellers in their every day life and the outcome shows that this is not acceptable.”

The family has suffered a great loss with the death of their son and this was compounded by the discrimination that they experienced at the time of his burial. We hope that the outcome of the case can bring some closure to them and will prevent such discrimination being repeated in service provision.

The Equality Authority and Pavee Point Traveller’s Centre supported the family to bring this case before the Tribunal, said Logan.

Read: Real Lives: Traveller men want to show you a side you ‘rarely get to see’>

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