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Roma woman wrongfully accused of failing to pay fare and thrown off Dublin Bus

The woman and a friend who was with her at the time received a substantial settlement.

Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

TWO WOMEN WHO are members of the Roma Community received a substantial settlement last year from Dublin Bus after being thrown off a bus when one was wrongfully accused of failing to pay her fare. 

The women were represented by Free Legal Advice Centres (Flac) in discrimination proceedings at the Workplace Relations Commission and in Circuit Court proceedings. Their case is one of several included in Flac’s 2019 annual report, which will be launched later today by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee.

The incident occurred in January 2018, when the two women, who wear traditional Roma attire, boarded a Dublin Bus. 

CCTV, obtained by Flac as part of their case, showed the first woman tagging on with her Leap Card before she was called back by the driver. 

While she stood at the door to the driver’s cabin, she was accused of neglecting to pay her fare and she refuted this.

“The driver then forcefully opened the door to his cabin, which struck the woman, and proceeded to eject the woman and her friend from the bus,” Flac said.

“Other passengers then entered the bus and it departed, leaving the women distraught on the roadside.”

Leap Card records showed the woman had paid her fare upon entering the bus.

Flac initiated Workplace Relations Commission discrimination proceedings against Dublin Bus on behalf of the women, as well as Circuit Court proceedings in respect of defamation against the women and personal injuries they sustained during the incident.

Flac said the parties reached a substantial settlement agreement.

Legal advice

Last year almost 27,000 people received legal information or advice from Flac.

There were 12,469 calls to its information and referral line with almost one quarter calling with a family law issue. 

Queries about employment law rose by over 10% compared with the previous year and were the second most frequently discussed queries in legal clinics. 

In 2019, Flac had 112 open case files – 61 of these case files were opened on behalf of callers to Flac’s Roma Legal Clinic.

Sinead Lucey, managing solicitor at Flac said:

“Through our dedicated Roma Clinic, we see the difficulties faced by the Roma community in terms of poverty, access to housing, access to employment and direct incidents of discrimination on a regular basis. Our casework highlights the gendered nature of the discrimination faced by the Roma community.

“In particular, Roma women seem to attract particular hostility, most likely because they are easily identifiable when they wear traditional dress such as long skirts and head scarves. They often have difficulty accessing shops or barriers to employment issues simply because of who they are.”

Communion celebration

Over 200 callers to the Flac clinics last year stated they had experienced discrimination with one third of those on the grounds of their race, ethnicity or nationality.

The report gave an example of a Traveller family whose booking for a Communion celebration at a hotel was cancelled last minute. 

In January 2018, the complainant phoned the hotel to reserve a function room on a date in May 2018 for a party to celebrate the Communion of two of her children.

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The hotel was provided with details of the number of attendees. The woman later when to the hotel to make further arrangements for the celebration and to pay the booking deposit.

Ahead of the event, Flac said the mother booked a clown and DJ. She also bought a cake and decorations and invited her family members to attend, including family travelling from the UK.

Three days before the event, the hotel manager called the woman and told her that her booking was cancelled due to a double booking of the hotel’s function room. The complainant received a refund of her deposit and found an alternative venue for the celebration.

However, it was unable to host the number of guests that she had invited and could not facilitate the entertainment planned.

“The complainant was upset and felt that her booking had been cancelled because she was a member of the Traveller community,” Flac said.

“At the discrimination hearing, evidence was provided that the complainants’ name was a common name among Traveller families in the area and that there was, at that time, negative publicity in the locality about members of the Traveller community, unrelated to the complainant, passing through the area.

The complainant also gave evidence about her dealings with the hotel and its failure to provide any credible explanation as to how it became aware of a double-booking only a few days before the event.
The adjudicator noted that the respondent’s evidence lacked credibility, and found that the hotel had discriminated against the complainant and her children on the basis of their being members of the Traveller community and ordered the payment of €5,000 in compensation.

Flac in its report has also raised concerns that legislation is being invoked “on a routine basis by local authorities, to threaten Traveller families with evictions without consultation with the families concerned and without any safeguards against arbitrary eviction”.

It said this was being done despite the fact that Ireland was found to be in breach of the European Social Charter in respect of this legislation in 2016.

Flac chief executive, Eilis Barry said today that Covid-19 has “thrown into sharp relief Flac’s objectives”. She said it has highlighted the importance of access to information, advice and advocacy about rights to social welfare, housing, debt and employment. 

“Rights are never more important than during a pandemic when people’s livelihood can be taken from them, they fear losing their homes and when difficult personal circumstances can be exacerbated,” she said.

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