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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: -2°C
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People refused entry to pubs don't get 'adequate access to justice' under complaints system

Human Rights Commission says current law disproportionately impacts minority groups.

THE IRISH HUMAN Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) has said the complaints mechanism for a refusal to enter a licensed premises urgently needs to be brought into line with other discrimination complaints.

The IHREC has said current legislation disproportionately impacts groups such as disabled people and members of the Traveller and Roma Communities who are turned away from the doors of licenced venues such as pubs, restaurants and clubs.

While the vast majority of discrimination issues are heard by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), there is an exception in Section 19 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003, which sees alleged discrimination in entry to bars, restaurants, nightclubs and other places that serve alcohol forced into the District Courts rather than the WRC.

As a result of this, the IHREC said, the complainant has to hire lawyers and proceed through the more adversarial and challenging atmosphere of a court to seek redress.

“This makes the enforcement of important rights excessively difficult and in some cases virtually impossible,” an IHREC spokesperson noted.

They added that the current system “disproportionately impacts members of the Traveller and Roma Communities and other groups such as disabled people who are effectively prevented from receiving adequate access to justice”.

The recommendation is contained in the IHREC’s detailed review of the adequacy and effectiveness of Section 19 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003 against human rights and equality standards.

Brain tumour

One case legally supported by the Commission in 2019 saw a pub customer with a brain tumour who was asked to leave the premises where he had been celebrating the end of rehabilitative treatment. The man’s condition causes a limp, and this was interpreted by staff as a sign of intoxication.

Despite explaining his disability directly to staff, the man was asked to leave, which caused him significant distress and embarrassment.

The IHREC provided direct legal representation to the man in his application to the District Court for redress under the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2003. The matter was later settled without a court hearing.

Data provided by the Courts Service also reflects that a vast majority of the proceedings instituted in the District Court under this legislation were either struck out or withdrawn.

“An extremely small number of cases resulted in an Order for compensation – 11 in total during the period of 2017-2019,” the IHREC spokesperson stated.

“Under the old regime (whereby discrimination claims in respect of licensed premises were dealt with by the Equality Tribunal, which preceded the WRC) the Tribunal issued 20 decisions concerning licensed premises in 2001, 45 decisions in 2002, and 64 decisions in 2003.”

Speaking about the issue today, Chief Commissioner Sinéad Gibney said: “We need to ask why there is a different legal approach for being discriminated against at the door of a pub, restaurant or club than in any other type of shop or service. This is a systemic equality issue which must be removed if we are to achieve equal access to justice.”

Gibney stated that multiple international human rights monitoring bodies, including the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, “have also criticised the State for failing to take actions to effect this change”.

“We have made it clear to Government that victims of discrimination deserve access to efficient and clear mechanisms to seek justice. Anything less is unacceptable,” she added.

The IHREC review has been sent to the Minister of Equality Roderic O’Gorman.

A spokesperson for the Department of Equality told The Journal: “The powers provided to the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission under Section 30 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Act 2014 to review the working and effect of legislation related to human rights and equality are an important part of the role of IHREC, and the Minister welcomes the perspective of IHREC as the independent body tasked with the promotion and protection of human rights and equality in the State.”

They confirmed that O’Gorman has received the report and “has asked officials to examine it in detail”.